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Neil Young continues to forge new paths with “Chrome Dreams II”

James Costa | Thursday, November 8, 2007

There are reasons why certain artists are considered enduring and classic, and as they age, continue to produce material that attracts mainstream listeners. Neil Young’s newest album, “Chrome Dreams II,” makes it clear why he is still considered one of the preeminent rock artists. It is a record that is as rough as it is refined, and as poignant as it is ferocious.The record’s name is a nod to “Chrome Dreams,” the unreleased record from the late 1970s that has now been established as the likely source of Young classics such as “Powderfinger” and “Like a Hurricane.” Though the original was never released, Young’s use of the II in the title signals to fans that he is back in classic Neil Young form. After a string of concept albums like “Greendale,” the charging Neil Young is stronger than he has been in almost 20 years. The album focuses on the nature of love and life. Songs like “Beautiful Bluebird,” “Shining Light” and “Ever After” are sweet, almost melancholic tributes to the loves of his life. More subtle in these songs is Young’s awareness of his own mortality and the prospect of growing old. “Ever After” has perhaps the most simply affecting lyrics of the album, reading “I love to see you smilin’ / And hear your voice so fair / And in the ever after / I know you’re always there.” It is uncluttered, classic and enduring music – some of the best Young has ever made. The rousing and harder songs on the record are arguably its highlight, with an almost frightening display of musical emotion funneled into songs like “Ordinary People,” “Spirit Road,” “Dirty Old Man,” and “No Hidden Path.” “Ordinary People” in particular is stunning. The highlight of the album, it unrolls over 18 minutes in a collection of stories about downtrodden people struggling to make a living. With its accounts of everyone from drug lords to boxers to homeless factory workers to rich corporate men like Lee Iacocca, it is one of the most powerful pieces of rock and roll. While the record is as fresh as Young has sounded in years, he achieves the effect with help from members of his old bands – the Stray Gators, the Bluenotes and Crazy Horse. Young’s ability to create a new sound with musicians that he spent years, even decades with is exciting to hear and reminds listeners of the history of the music. Young has always said he wishes to continue forging new paths and new directions with his music. He is not a fan of farewell tours or greatest hits tours. Rather, his desire to always create rather than rehash has allowed him to stay far more important and vital than artists relegated to nostalgic rock and roll history. By creating new music and bringing new energy to his recordings, Young has crafted a brilliant and focused record that speaks to the complexities of the human condition. It is truly marvelous and worth a listen.