Don’t even get me started on trying to explain the back-story behind Neil Young’s latest, Chrome Dreams II. There’s something about an aborted mid 70’s album, some assorted outtakes from other sessions, and the finished product, a sequel to aforementioned non-existent album. Confused? That’s Neil for you.
All joking aside, Chrome Dreams II does hearken back to the glory days of albums like Rust Never Sleeps, in that stylistically these tracks are all over the map. Given the lineage of this material that should not come as a surprise; when you randomly take songs never before used on a studio work, expect a bit of variety.
So where does Chrome Dreams II place in the pantheon of Neil Young albums? Somewhere in the middle. There are some brilliant moments to be found and others that fail to measure up. This has been par for the course for Neil recently and it’s a tad troubling. Of course, having said that, his next album will probably be brilliant, because that is just how Young works (If this is the case, I am preemptively taking credit).
The number that has attracted the most attention, and deservedly so, is “Ordinary People.” An 18-minute epic, you’d be hard pressed to find anything similar in Young’s catalogue. Coming into this experience, I was hesitant to believe he could pull it off. 18 minutes is a long time to keep someone’s attention and energy focused on the music, but damn it if Neil didn’t hit a home run.
The lyrics aren’t anything horribly special, but Young gets his point across thanks to 20 stanzas. Here however, the music carries the day. Between the inclusion of a horn section and the slow-developing guitar attack, every refrain offers something new. The basic riffs remain the foundation, but as you listen you’re as likely to hear a blistering guitar solo as you are a similarly effective sax break. It’s rare that 18 minutes goes so fast, but this is indeed one of those cases.
Trying to top “People” is impossible, and some songs fail merely because they share a spot in the track order. The 14-minute “No Hidden Path” is the polar opposite of its cousin; here the long windedness and endless jams do nothing. “The Believer” is a throw away number, as is “Ever After.”
Other bright spots come in the form of the two opening tracks; they capture that Harvest vibe that broke Young to a wider audience. “Dirty Old Man” is a hilarious grunge rock number that showcases Young’s devastating wit. Finally, “The Way” find Young being backed by a children’s choir; it wins points just for the risk.
Chrome Dreams II will not be mentioned as one of Neil Young’s great albums. In fact, some might even rank it below average (it’s so hard to tell with Young fans). “Ordinary People” alone makes the record with listening to, and the few supporting numbers are worthwhile as well.