CD REVIEW: "CHROME DREAMS II" by NEIL YOUNG
It seems that life-changing experiences can mellow people out sometimes, as they often appear to gain a greater perspective in regard to humanity and to their own place within the world. I think Neil Young has found some great inner peace, but I think the music has lost some of its fire in the past ten years or so, most notably so since he had the surgery for his aneurysm. Thus, I'm not surprised that the music itself seems to lack some of the fire we used to hear in Young's work. I think it's cool that Neil has become a kind of spiritual guy and all (check out song titles like "Spirit Road", "The Believer", "No Hidden Path", "The Way", "Ever After" and "Shining Light"), but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot on "Chrome Dreams II" that smolders the way things used to with Young and his band Crazy Horse. I like his stuff more when he's smoldering. If I want to see and hear Neil in his present frame of mind circa 2006, I'll get out my copy of his film "Heart of Gold", as it is a wonderful testament to peace, humanity and friendship through music.
By all indications, Neil Young is in a comfort zone musically and life-wise. Even if I think such a comfort zone produces music that is in some ways less vital to me as a listener, I have to hand it to Neil. How many of us can get to the highly positive point in life where he seems to be now?
"Boxcar" is another tune from years ago that has been bootlegged many, many times. While "Ordinary People" appears to have been recorded by one of Young's "Blue Notes" band line-ups from the time of the "This Note's For You" album, "Boxcar" has been recently redone. I would have rather heard one of the original versions than a re-do, but I still like the tune. Of other songs on the CD, I think "Dirty Old Man" is amusing and fun, but highly out of place on the album in regard to the album's general mood. "No Hidden Path" is kind of a cool, long Neil jam tune and "Spirit Road" is electric enough... although I don't think either of those two tracks come very close to anything as intensely powerful as "Love and Only Love" or "Love to Burn" from the 1990 "Ragged Glory" album, for example.
I keep hoping his "archives" series will give us more than just live material, and that some of what we hear will not be older songs redone, as "Boxcar" has been on "Chrome Dreams II" and as I believe "Razor Love" was done on "Silver and Gold". I rather hope that we will get to hear his unreleased songs in their original forms, as in the recordings from 20-40 years ago. There is a lot of that music in his vaults. If he decides to get it out and share it, it will be cause for great joy for millions of his fans. He probably has enough "new" old material people have never heard, both live and studio, that he could release a couple of CDs a year for the next decade. Here's hoping he will do it. Of course it's up to Neil Young to do this, and for those of us who have been following him throughout his career, we know how unpredictable he can be... sometimes delightfully, but sometimes frustratingly so.
I also see this new CD as a musical snapshot of where Neil seems to be at his current station in life, a place in which he realizes, with thanks to whatever spirit he knows or seeks, that friends and the love of friends may be our most important earthly treasures. Then again, in some ways "Chrome Dreams II" almost has a feel of Young killing time and having fun while he readies more stuff for release from his vaults. Either way, it's all o.k. with me.
I find very little that is musically or lyrically immediate or profound about "Chrome Dreams II", but it is a very pleasant CD to hear. I certainly have to give it my Neil Young fan Seal of Approval. The most important thing to me, more important than whether or not Young still has a musical fire in his belly or whether he plans to release any of his unreleased songs, is knowing that he is alive, he is well, and he is still writing, playing and singing. Whatever Neil Young does, I will always be a fan and I will always listen. And if you listen to "Chrome Dreams II" too, I think you will probably find things worth hearing.