It’s hard to keep up with Neil Young. The Canadian-American singer-songwriter truly is on a mission to publish his music, both old and new, and he’s not slowing down. Since December 2021, Young who recently turned 77, has put out three live and three studio albums. The latter includes his new studio project with Crazy Horse, World Record, released on November 18.
I think there are two ways to look at World Record. One is to conclude the album presents nothing new we haven’t heard from Neil Young before, which is a fair statement. The other way to look at it is he is giving us more of classic Neil, the kind of music his fans love. If you’ve been a frequent visitor of my blog or know my music taste otherwise, you will not be much surprised I wholeheartedly embrace the second view.
World Record is the 42nd studio album by Young and his 15th with Crazy Horse, according to Wikipedia. They had to count them all! It comes less than a year after its predecessor Barn, which appeared in December 2021 and which I reviewed here. Like Barn, World Record features Young’s longtime backing band Crazy Horse, including Nils Lofgren (guitar, upright piano, dobro, slide guitar, lap steel, pedal steel, accordion, sweep percussion, vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums, vocals). In addition to vocals and guitar, Young provides upright piano, vibes, harp, harmonica, Marxophone, pump organ, Wurlitzer and kick tub.
Unlike its predecessor, the new album was co-produced by Rick Rubin. While he has worked with countless other artists over the past 40 years, including the likes of Johnny Cash, AC/DC, Sheryl Crow, Santana and ZZ Top, if I see this correctly, World Record marks his debut with Neil Young. Well, there’s always a first time! The album has a spontaneous and laid-back feel to it. According to Apple Music, Most of the songs started as melodies Young whistled to himself while walking in the woods, and were written from start to finish in just two days. I’d say it’s time to check out some music!
Let’s kick things off with the opener Love Earth. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks were written by Young. “The reason I wrote Love Earth is because I see it as a simple message,” he explained in a post on his website Neil Young Archives. “If you do good things to Earth and try to keep the planet clean and taken care of, she will take care of you and your grandchildren in return.” Young has been singing about environmental concerns since 1970 and the days of After the Gold Rush.
When I first heard the beginning of I Walk With You (Earth Ringtone), the heavily distorted guitar sounded immediately reminded me of Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black). Young doesn’t fool around when it comes to distortion! The lyrics leave no doubt about the message:…I look out at the change and I wonder how the earth could be going to somewhere I’ve never seen/Walk with me now to the ends of the earth and you’ll see what the damage can be/Fight with me now to the end of the wars and believe what they’ve done for you, if you now are free…
The World (Is In Trouble Now) dials back the distortion in favor of Young’s pump organ and harmonica. In this tune, Young goes beyond describing troubling signs of change to calling for activism:…On this street we walk together now/To send this message here/Let me wait beyond the things I know/And try to be a light…
Walkin’ On the Road (To the Future) is another acoustically focused song. As he oftentimes does, in this tune, Young offers some hope amid the doom and gloom of the planet’s decline:..Walkin’ on the road to the future is scary/We want to make the best of the past and not tarry/These are the things we’ve done and they have a cost/But we will take it on and try to make the best of us…
A standout tune on the album is the 15-minute-plus Chevrolet, seemingly a bit of a contradiction lyrically speaking on an album that is focused on environmental decay. Since I already covered the song in my latest Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here. Instead, the final track I’d like to call out is The Wonder Won’t Wait.
World Record, which appears on Reprise Records, was recorded live and mixed to analog tape at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, Calif. BTW, in case you’re wondering about the cover, it’s a shot of Neil Young’s father, Scott Alexander Young, who was a Canadian journalist, sportswriter and novelist.
The final word shall belong to Neil: “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told Apple Music. “It’s probably the only time in the world that you could ever see where all the people of all the countries all around the world could have the same idea: ‘Wait a minute, we got to do something because this is no good.’ We’re all feeling it.”
Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouYube