If you have followed Neil Young’s music over the years, you probably now realize that you’re not going to like everything the man records and releases. Perhaps the best thing I can write about his catalog of music is that there isn’t one album that defines his talent or clearly highlights the reason you keep going to his shows; it’s a collection of brilliant moments over decades of different styles of music that leaves you wanting more. A Neil Young fan’s greatest problem is perhaps trying to persuade others as to why he’s so good, because it doesn’t really add up to a two-minute conversation—there’s more to the picture than meets the eye.
With his new album, Chrome Dreams II, Young is again challenging his audience to listen carefully. A country ballad, “Beautiful Bluebird,” leads off the album with an acoustic, front porch feel that pairs well with “Boxcar,” a short tune that is carried by its banjo and chanting drumbeat. The acoustic disguise modestly sets the stage for the 18-plus minute “Ordinary People,” an unreleased epic recording from the 80’s that floods the listener with electric guitar, horns, and lyrics that mirror Freedom’s “Crime in the City”.
It’s after this strong opening trio of tunes where Chrome Dreams II takes some chances (you knew it was coming, right?). “Shining Light,” “The Believer,” Spirit Road,” “Dirty Old Man,” and “Ever After” all represent something different that Young has tried over the past few years; there are moments in any song that will remind one of Are You Passionate, Prairie Wind, or Sleeps with Angels, and there will be difficult moments in this stretch for any Neil Young fan. It’s here in the heart of Chrome Dreams II where the listener has to polish off what he or she likes and move on to the real treat of album, “No Hidden Path,” which is quite possibly the best song Young has recorded in the 21st century. I don’t want to tell you it’s better than “Change Your Mind,” “Love and Only Love,” or “I’m The Ocean,” but its 14-and-a-half minutes do what no other Neil Young song has done in quite a while: it’s strong where it should be weak, soaring when it should be taking a rest; yes, it’s ok to get excited.
The album closes with “The Way,” featuring Young with a children’s choir, singing fresh lyrics that promise to “show the way to bring you back home.” Home is a sweet place on Chrome Dreams II, and no matter what you love about Neil Young, my guess is that you’re going to like what you find when you get there.