Saturday, November 03, 2007

CD REVIEW: "CHROME DREAMS II" by NEIL YOUNG


I had been eagerly anticipating the release of the always enigmatic Neil Young's newest CD "Chrome Dreams II" for quite some time, in part because it contains several songs I have heard on bootlegged recordings for the last 10 to 15 years. After a few listens to his new album, I find myself perplexed. I find it to be a comfortable and reassuring listen, but I don't find it particularly exciting either.

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?

Of the songs Young gives us on "Chrome Dreams II" my favorite track is "The Way", the last one on the CD. It is a very atmospheric song, with lyrics suggesting that things are right there in front of us if we only look... we don't have to be lost. Young doesn't seem to be plugging any particular way to be "found", he just tells us we can find a way if we look for it. I also love the overly-long and horn-laden "Ordinary People"; this album's version of the song clocks in at a little over 18 minutes. It's a song I've heard many times on bootleg recordings over the past 10-15 years, and among Young's die-hard fans it has acquired a sort of legendary status. Lyrically it's all over the place and a bit confusing, but it seems to fit together pretty well after a few listens.

"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 don't think "Chrome Dreams II" is going to find its way into bargain bins like other Young outings such as "Landing On Water", "Are You Passionate?", "Broken Arrow" or "Sleeps With Angels". I happen to think the latter two of those four albums are well above clearance-rack status, but (and no offense intended to hardcore Neil Young fans) I also believe there are some of his more recent releases which deserve to be $3.99 specials, i.e. the "Greendale" material in particular. I wouldn't rank "Chrome Dreams II" as highly as such "recent" Young classics as 1992's "Harvest Moon" or 1989's "Freedom" and the relatively-unknown but amazingly good "Eldorado" EP CD from about that same time (released only in Japan and Germany), but I definitely like "Chrome Dreams II" better than the seemingly desultory "Greendale" material, the blandly pleasant "Prairie Wind" and "Silver and Gold", the lyrically relevant but musically cobbled-together "Living With War", the warmed-over cold leftover live collection "Road Rock Vol. 1" (again, no offense intended toward hardcore fans) and the mostly unenjoyable (by my standards) "Are You Passionate". In other words, I will say I think "Chrome Dreams II" IS Neil Young's best release of the past ten years, but calling it that isn't really too much of a stretch for me considering that I find his recent output spotty at best. When it comes to Young's music, I suppose you could say I'm mired in the Neil Young period from Buffalo Springfield through 1996 when Young and Crazy Horse released his last one I got extremely enthused about, "Broken Arrow".

Neil Young is now releasing some older "live" recordings at long last, including a couple from Massey Hall and the Fillmore that are very, very good. I lurk on a wonderful internet discussion group called the Rust List, and in the mid-late 90's a number of "Rusties" who were impatient for the"archives" decided to collect their bootlegs of unreleased Neil Young songs into one collection that took up 3-4 full CDs, referring to it as "Archives Be Damned"! It is an amazing collection, and I still like to get it out and listen once in a while just to remind myself that if Neil Young wanted to he could release at least five or six hours of very good songs, mostly ones unheard by just about all of us.

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.

With all of that said, I see "Chrome Dreams II" as a kind of stopgap album. Neil Young loves playing relaxing music with his friends, which is what he is doing more of here, and that's fine. That's what playing music should be all about, really. But for me, "Chrome Dreams II" is more of a musical teaser than anything: will we get to hear the original "lost" "Chrome Dreams" album someday? That "lost" album is a subject for another time... and maybe Neil Young named his new album "Chrome Dreams II" as a statement of sorts, that the days of the original "Chrome Dreams" are now just the days that used to be. Who knows?

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.

10 Comments:

Blogger Thrasher said...

Nice review. I think CDII will hold up over time.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

Thanks! If I recall correctly, you have been on the Rust List for quite some time, right? I will visit your weblog! Thanks for commenting!

3:52 PM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

I've only listened to it once so far. I would agree, sometimes his newer mellow stuff doesn't leave much of a mark. I really liked "Ordinary People"...like you say, it goes all over the place but that's something I don't mind so much. It kind of reminds me of a long cut on "Freedom".

4:47 PM  
Blogger Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

I'm sorry this is off topic, but I just watched the LSU-Alabama game, and my only conclusion is that the replay officials are worth every last f***ing penny LSU paid for them. What a f***ing ABORTION! If I'm Saban, I'm telling my players to target that officiating crew the next time they're at one of my games.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

I'm pretty ticked off about that game too, MC. TERRIBLE officiating. It ranks up there with the officiating at the Oregon-Oklahoma game last year.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Lizzy said...

You should write CD reviews for a living!

I am a huge Neil fan and will be buying this soon.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

Oh, and should LSU face Oregon for the national title (how many top 20 teams has OSU beaten this year?), I have only one thing to say: GO DUCKS!!!

7:10 PM  
Blogger Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

Also, should Oregon face LSU, I have the Ducks by 3 touchdowns, assuming the officiating crew isn't from the SEC. I was so angry I nearly ripped a door off its hinges.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

Thanks, Lizzy! If I had to rate the CD on a 1-5 star scale I would give it a strong 3 1/2 stars, maybe a 4 if I was feeling generous.

Thanks for your support of the Ducks, MC. I will be supporting Alabama for the remainder of this season, and vehemently rooting against LSU, and not just because of BCS stuff. The Tide deserved to win that game.

Oregon may be in the driver's seat for the Pac-10 title, but the Ducks have to win the rest of their games. Their next one isn't until Nov. 15 against Arizona, but that game is in Tucson, always a tough place to play, and the Wildcats aren't all that bad a team. With ten days until that one, Dennis Dixon's knee should have time to heal a bit. The game the following weekend at UCLA won't be a gimme either, although the Bruins aren't all that great a team, and they are pretty banged up at the moment. The final regular season game is always a tough one, against their archrival, the OSU Beavers. At least it's on the the Ducks' home field this year! OSU is young and inconsistent, but they're a capable team.

If UO can "win out", I see no reason why they shouldn't be playing someone like Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma or Kansas for the national title. Hopefully Ohio St. or LSU will lose a game... the Buckeyes still have to face Michigan and Illinois. Not sure who LSU has left, but I'll be checking it out!

Go Ducks, and GO TIDE.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

I would be pulling for Louisiana-Lafayette and Ole Miss, two of LSU's last three regular season foes, but frankly, a snowball has a better chance of remaining cold and in tact inside an active volcano. The only semi-threat remaining in their regular season is Arkansas on November 24, and they're 6-3 (2-3 in conference). For the conference title game, LSU's in control of the SEC West, and if Georgia and Tennessee both win out, I'll really be pissed off because Tennessee beat Georgia in their regular season meeting and they'll represent the SEC East. If that happens, I honestly don't know who I'll support because right now, I hate both teams fairly equally.

3:53 PM  

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