Photo by: Charlie Martin
Neil Young is one of those timeless musicians whose music is not, and never has been, about getting personal attention or climbing the ranks. Rather, Young’s craft has honed in on continuously producing high-quality, timeless music that is true to who he is, and his recent album with Crazy Horse, World Record is no different. Despite numerous songs being put out beforehand, World Record was officially released mid-November 2022, with Young appearing alongside guitarist Nils Lofgren who is known for his association with Bruce Springsteen, long-time Crazy Horse guitarist Billy Talbot, and Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina.
The record was recorded with the central purpose of discussing the Earth, it’s current state, and how people should take Mother Earth more seriously in the face of threats like climate change. This is fitting for Young, considering his long history of protesting for environmental rights and engaging in other progressive causes, with one of the most prominent being his recent removal of music from Spotify, after the streaming platform refused to remove Alex Jones’ podcast.
Like much of Neil’s recent work, World Record has a mix of grunge-y, guitar-heavy, deep rock-and-roll tracks, complemented by a few lighter, airier songs that have more of a walking beat to them. Across all tracks, however, is some experimenting with different sounds, ranging from the familiar harmonica playing from Young, to exploratory use of the pump organ.
While all of the tracks are enjoyable to a certain degree, those that are fans of Young’s grungier, dirtier work like me will find some of the tracks to be dull.
The less-than-great songs on this album are mediocre at best, but the tracks that do land give Neil’s older, more popular work like “Heart of Gold” a run for their money.
The first song on the album, “Love Earth,” encapsulates the entire message of the album – which is quite obvious from its title – but fails to deliver a unique sound. Much of this album is said to have originated from voice notes on Neil’s phone that he recorded while out on “nature walks,” which provides a lot of context for this song. The repetitive lyrics don’t give the melody justice, but one redeeming factor can be found in its authenticity. The delivery of the lyrics coupled with the associated music video being a poorly-recorded video of Neil walking through a neighbourhood and seeing himself in the trees allows long-time fans of Young to reflect on who he is and his positionality in making an album specifically dedicated to the Earth.
“Overhead,” is quite the step away from the track before it, “Love Earth.” This song sets the stage for the more grunge-y work that appears later on in the album, with a guitar-heavy lead and the classic harmonica playing that Young fans have been missing out on in recent years. “Overhead” also features the classic wavering vocals of Neil that have been featured on timeless songs like “Heart of Gold,” or “Old Man,” while carrying a new sound, with a new message. However, the track offers fairly repetitive lyrics that were similarly seen in “Love Earth.”
“I Walk With You (Earth Ringtone)” is the least unique song on the album instrumentally, but the strongest in terms of lyrics. This song is grunge-y, holds a slower beat than the rest of the album, and is vocal-heavy. What this track does particularly well is tell the story of the meaning behind the album while not being too obvious about it. Young reminisces on his relation to others and the Earth, with particularly strong lines being “ I saw the change rolling by out the window of my life/ I’m so grateful to have lived for all these years/ From the falling leaves to the snow in the trees/ And the spring to the summertime we knew.” Later lyrics also discuss the topic of war and the end of the Earth, a topic that is heavily prevalent in Neil’s earlier solo work and fitting for his persona.
The shortest track on the album, “This Old Planet” is an incredibly intimate, almost heartwarming song that offers a strong prelude into the following track. Perhaps the most unique song featured here, this song feels like Neil is whispering a secret about how he feels about the state of the world in your ear. For fans of the one-album-wonder, Canadian alternative musician and producer, Tobias Jesso Jr., “This Old Planet” will probably remind you of tracks like “True Love.”
Coming out of the softness of the previous track, “The World (is in trouble now)” begins the introduction into a section of more grunge-y songs on this album, and does so in a brilliant way. The vocals feel more experimental on this track, with more of an aggressive approach to their delivery than what is typical for Neil which just adds to the message of the song – that the world is in crisis. What this song does best, however, is experiment with the use of a pump organ which adds an unexpected twang and a truly unique sound for 21st century rock.
“Break The Chain” is hands down the best track on this album. The satisfying grunge-insess of this song makes it feel as though your brain is being massaged. This song gives justice to Neil’s “Godfather of Grunge,” title and is reminiscent of widely-known tracks like Rockin’ in the Free World. What elevates this track further is the video of it being recorded, where a low-resolution picture depicts the quartet rocking as hard as they possibly can – to the point where they are teetering between greatness and incoherence. This feeling is depicted in remarks at the end of the video about the producers feeling like the speakers were going to catch fire. This song proves that “old dogs” like Young can still rock.
There is not too much to say about “The Long Day Before” other than that it feels long. While “Break The Chain” is a tough act to follow, this track seems to miss the sweet spot between softness and energy, resulting in a disappointingly lackluster track. It’s much slower, and honestly almost sounds like something that could play on a carousel ride. There are a few redemption attempts with some strings of harmonica playing, but overall it just can’t make up for the otherwise lacking song.
Although the lyrics on “Walkin’ On The Road (to the future)” probably could have been improved on – with simplistic lyrics like “No more wars, only love” repeating over and over again – this song’s vocals are unparalleled. The uniquely-placed and full harmonizing over the chorus of this track is a refreshing breath of air for the album, not seen on any of the other tracks. The sheer talent of the quartet producing this album is given light on this track.
“The Wonder Won’t Wait” is not much of a wonder in itself. This track is fairly standard – while it’s clear that the group is talented and the song still has a unique sound, at the end of the day, it’s just mediocre. Although, those who dislike the more simplistic vocals seen elsewhere on this album might enjoy this song’s more indirect storytelling of the Earth being a continuously moving, ever-evolving place that refuses to listen to your personal timeline.
“Chevrolet” has the longest runtime of all the songs on the album, clocking in at over 11 minutes long. This song is a rock and roll enthusiast’s dream, with unbridled guitar playing and the raw talent of Young and his associates being left on the line. However, pnothing I personally do not feel like anything inventive or new comes out of this song, but I can see how the rock and roll purists might feel differently, with the group returning to their classic roots.