Review Summary: Forever Young
Having secured his legacy with his 1970s output, Neil Young has spent the past three decades mostly doing what we all dream of: anything he feels like. The 1980s saw him release albums such as Re-ac-tor
and Everybody’s Rockin’
, records that were legally troublesome and critically mauled. Still Young persisted and in recent years we’ve been privy to the lazy, shapeless Fork In The Road
and the rough yet addictive Le Noise
So it’s with some measure of expectant trepidation that we welcome Americana
into his sprawling canon. His first album with Crazy Horse since 2003’s Greendale
is a collection of traditional American numbers given the typical roughshod once over by Young and his part-time companions. The album shares more in common with the boisterous Ragged Glory
and from the atmosphere generated by buoyant opener “Oh Susannah”, we know what we’re in for; brash, noisy bar-room rock that may plod at times, but delivered with an enviable swagger that nearly a half century of experience brings. The sing-a-long chorus is a true earworm.
Those of you expecting a collection of songs that adhere to the more traditional structures applied to them over time should really know better. True to form, Young and Crazy Horse set about maiming the songs, stripping the weight of history from them and recreating with a fervour belying the fact that Young should be drawing a pension under normal circumstances. “Clementine” is thrown at the listener with a passion that would make you believe Young has written it himself. Elsewhere, “Gallows Pole” trips along with a spring in its step and the temptation to pick up your guitar and play along is almost unbearable. Never one to miss an opportunity to fire an aside at perceived falsehoods and inequality, “Get A Job” is a timely ode to economic depression. “When I get the ‘paper/I read it through and through/and my girl never fails to see/if there is any work for me” howls Young, perhaps reliving the experience of his own hard times and relating to listeners who may be enduring struggles of their own. “High Flyin’ Bird” is one of the more powerful tracks on offer, Young deploying his usual off-kilter solos at various points as the band play on with reckless abandon around him.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Neil Young record if there wasn’t something wrong with it. “This Land Is Your Land” sounds too forced, too…happy, whilst “Tom Dula” suffers from being about twice as long as it should be. However, these are minor irritants on a record of real class, energy and vitality.
Ever the contrarian, Young abandons the concept of classic American songs with a closing rendition of “God Save The Queen”. Its military drum beat is married to a heavenly backing choir and almost inspires a heady dose of nationalism. Young and Crazy Horse sound like the band who won’t abandon the sinking ship, going beneath the waves as they play on.
In a world where many acts of a similar age rely on their past, eschewing their original passion and fire for heritage, tradition and tribute, it’s comforting to know that Young can both usurp these elements and carry on ploughing his own furrow.