We gave it a B+
Neil Young has come up with some nutty album concepts over the years. (Remember when he sang most of 1982’s electronic Trans through a vocoder?) But releasing a sequel to an unreleased record is peculiar even for him. The title of his latest, Chrome Dreams II, refers to Chrome Dreams, a collection that came tantalizingly close to hitting stores in 1977 before Young mysteriously shelved it. Had it seen daylight, the original and widely bootlegged Dreams might have been one of his defining LPs, since it included early versions of eventual classics like ”Powderfinger” and ”Like a Hurricane.” Maybe branding this one a follow-up to something that officially doesn’t exist is the 61-year-old firebrand’s waggish way of telling faithful followers that even though he controversially charges as much as $260 for a ticket nowadays, he’s still the incorrigible kook they know and love. But there’s serious intent to the titular in-joke too: He’s signaling to fans that in the grooves, where it counts, he’s back in Classic Neil mode.
If you’re hoping Chrome Dreams II includes a ”Like a Hurricane II,” you may be disappointed: No one’s likely to place this among the top tier of Young’s 40-some solo albums. But it is his most enjoyable and well-rounded one in, like, an eternity. Lately, he’s given us collections of either Crazy Horse noisefests or rootsy napfests, and rarely the twain did meet. He mixes all that up on Dreams II, a nifty exercise in extreme dynamics — just like the original Dreams, which had short-and-sweet acoustic numbers almost bizarrely juxtaposed with cranky epic rockers. Here, the contented ”Boxcar” has Young playing the hobo and plucking the banjo for just shy of three minutes — followed by the 18:15 ”Ordinary People,” a populist narrative with 18 verses and nearly as many amped-up guitar solos. It’s an album inclusive enough for both ”Dirty Old Man,” a garage-rock sinner’s rant, and ”The Way,” a beautiful minor-key hymn that sounds like a recruiting anthem for the gloomiest cult you’d ever want to join.
Rock doesn’t have many — okay, any — other mavericks who can pull off the feedback-fury thing and the country-layabout thing, so it’s a treat to have Young bring both sides together so holistically on Dreams II. Holistic also describes the lyrics: Titles like ”Shining Light,” ”The Believer,” and ”No Hidden Path” all suggest a vaguely spiritual contentedness that is inspiring better material than the topical anger that fueled last year’s undercooked Living With War. Between the distortion and Dobros, and amid this album’s turbulent but ultimately peaceable extremes, it’s clear that — to borrow from The Big Lebowski and its bliss-loving hero — the dude abides. B+
DOWNLOAD THIS: Hear a free stream of ”Ordinary People” at barnesandnoble.com