Neil Young ended off the seventies on a great note. Before releasing the live album Live Rust, Young finished the decade that was perhaps his most successful with one of this finest works up until then and remains now, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’. Although the album was recorded live on the tour of the same name, it consisted entirely of new material and with most of the audience track removed and later overdubbing, it felt like a studio recording but with a rawer, more intense and intimate feel of a live performance. Young makes some of his most memorable work ranging from the gentle, cryptic folk of the opening track to a heavier, rocking alteration of the same song to conclude. Divided into two separate sections, acoustic first and electric tunes on the second half with his famous backing band Crazy Horse, Rust Never Sleeps is one of his most unique and self representative works.
Opening with powerful, atmospheric My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)
, the albums distinctive tone is set. Possessing the infamous line “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”, an inside look at the music industry and an era as well as a modest salute to the King Elvis Presley and embracing the modern punk age with a nod to Johnny Rotten, the track is one of Young’s most prominent and for good reason. Thrasher
solidifies the albums brilliant start with a beautiful, warming and intimate story telling song with some of his best and most descriptive lyrics that read like an autobiography with lines such as “And I was just getting up, hit the road before it's light; trying to catch an hour on the sun, when I saw those thrashers rolling by; looking more than two lanes wide I was feeling like my day had just begun” and a excerpt from the final verse “But me I'm not stopping there got my own row left to hoe; just another line in the field of time”. Ride My Llama
are also both wonderful songs that fit along side his best, especially the latter. The majority of the lyrics are written cleverly, sometimes laced with obscure metaphors, imagery and passages that may have numerous meanings, but are bound to make the listener think. What to think about depends.
The electric second half is highlighted by Powderfinger
, which actually works as a transitional song in the middle with its blending of softer, mid tempo melodies with heavier guitar parts. One of Young’s undisputed highlights, the five minute plus song combines a folk country melody with mesmerizing guitars including a remarkable, yet straightforward solo and Young’s distinctive tenor. Only contending with the opener and Thrasher, this track leaves the longest lasting impression.
With the possible exception of the comical, but slightly repetitive and rowdy Welfare Mothers
, Rust Never Sleeps is flawless in terms of song quality, which can’t necessarily be said about Harvest. It is no doubt to me that the first six tracks outweigh the latter, but even with a somewhat imbalance in song superiority, Rust Never Sleep can play right through with no interruption and plays with excellent flow. Along with Welfare Mothers, Sedan Delivery
might be considered the heaviest track, and works better than the aforementioned due to a more focused take. The heavier counterpart to the introduction, Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)
follows the same structure as it but with slightly altered lyrics and a (in the best way) messy, grunge feeling ending the album perfectly. It is around this time that most of the audience is heard.
Rust Never Sleeps not only an essential Neil Young album (up there with After the Gold Rush, Harvest, Tonight’s the Night), but simply an essential. With being for the most part easily accessible, it can also work as a good starting point for newcomers to his music due to showcasing his folk, acoustic work with a contrast side by side. Young’s emotion and heartfelt lyrics are strong messages that get across here, and the music is as inspired as ever. In a redundant summary Young & Crazy Horse are at their finest here on an album just as enjoyable as it is symbolic.
My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)