I have persisted in buying everything Neil Young releases since I first heard On the Beach as a callow but pretentious 13-year-old. To tell you the truth, the past 27 years have somewhat tested this commitment. There has been a fatal laziness in the songwriting, lyrically and melodically, since 1994’s Sleeps with Angels and the preaching has become ever more tiresome. But I continued forking out in the increasingly forlorn hope that he’d turn out something if not wonderful, then at least reminiscent of wonderful things past. And for lo, the grizzled old troubadour has done exactly that.
This is a subtler incarnation of Crazy Horse, helped incalculably by the presence of Nils Lofgren on flowery bar-room piano and sweet guitar. The lyrics for the most part eschew declamation in favour of the vague and ephemeral — always a sign of Young at his best, or near his best. The songs alternate between the kind of agreeable hokey acoustic LA country Young was immersed in on one side of the underrated American Stars ’n Bars and then the electric growl and crunch of Ragged Glory, Zuma and Freedom. Only twice, on the breast-beating ‘Canerican’ and on the godawful sub-adolescent ‘Human Race’ (we’re messing up the planet, apparently), does that lazy, can’t-be-arsed-with-scansion ranting make an appearance. Elsewhere there’s the lovely country blues of ‘Shape of You’, the cheerfully wistful ‘Tumblin’ Thru the Years’ and the sappy but charming ‘Don’t Forget Love’, which could have come straight from Comes a Time. The highlight is the lengthy, but restrained, Crazy Horse workout of ‘Welcome Back’, a paean to his fans of which I gladly remain one such. Welcome back, Neil.