Neil Young is not a boyish grandpa, but like any aged musician, he looks to his youth for inspiration. “Chrome Dreams II,” his latest release, finds a man with over 40 solo albums under his belt doing just that.
The record’s title refers to the original “Chrome Dreams,” an album that Young scrapped back in the ’70s, and the “sequel” certainly feels like it was written back then, before Young branched out into electronica on “Trans” and rockabilly on “Everybody’s Rockin’,” among other genre experiments.
After a spell of Bush bashing and directing indie films, Young returns to his roots of sweet folk-country and grungy guitar-heavy rock on “CD II.” This love child of such Young classics as “Harvest” and “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” is a surprisingly lethal combination of his best forms.
The album starts off with “Beautiful Bluebird” and “Boxcar,” two folksy tracks that were written in the ’80s. Both are delicate in their composition, as Young tenderly plucks away at a banjo and blows on his harmonica. The rest of the album mixes folk-country and fuzzy rock like peanut butter and jelly. The melodic ponderings of “Ever After” and the soft, paradisiacal eulogy of “The Believer” complement the grungy and scandalous account of “Dirty Old Man” and the distinctive, razor-sharp solos that burst forth on “Spirit Road.” With his idiosyncratic, nasal voice, Young sings with the convincing tone of both a storyteller and philosopher.
The two most prominent tracks are “Ordinary People” and “No Hidden Path” — both are epic in scale and overshadow the album’s other numbers. “Ordinary People” (which Young boldly plans to release as a single) is a unicorn to the world of Neil Young fans, a rumored recording that has finally come to light. It clocks in at 18 minutes long, with Young as the omniscient narrator he loves to be, observing and extolling the majesty of the common man. “No Hidden Path” is more jamming than storytelling, made up of numerous guitar solos that sting and bite their way through 15 minutes of enlightenment. Neither track is overtly complicated, but each packs enough punch to hold the listener’s attention.
On “Chrome Dreams II,” Young frequently contemplates the path to wisdom (just take a look at some of the song titles) as if he were a Buddhist monk seeking nirvana. But for a man who has taken so many twists and turns in his musical career, it’s no wonder that he is so eager to find solace in this direction. On “The Way,” the final song of the album, Young is backed by a boy’s choir and a gentle piano to produce an uplifting vision of life. One can only hope that Young is speaking to himself when he sings, “We know the way / We’ll lead the way / To get you back home / To the peace where you belong.”