Neil Young is a man of many guises, but one that has stuck with him since almost the beginning of his career has been that of the eco-loving hippie. Way back in 1970 he sang, “Watch Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s,” predicts a decade of climate unrest that has only gotten worse since then. His commitment to the planet and its natural habitats has not wavered as he tackled issues big and small on albums like Ragged Glory, Greendale and The Monsanto years over the past five decades.
He’s been on a pandemic-era roll lately, recording three albums in a row with his longtime, off-and-on backing group Crazy Horse. (He’s also been busy clearing out his archives, dusting off nearly a dozen abandoned studio and concert projects over the same period.) World record brings together Environmental Issues, Crazy Horse and another quickly assembled album (ie recorded live without overdubs) that sounds like an extension of both the past few years and Young’s entire career.
Just like 2019 Colorado (which was recorded and released in the months before COVIDbut which now appears to be the starting point for Young’s latest term) and 2021’s Let, World record can be messy and often unfocused. But Young and Crazy Horse’s fidelity to the material and to themselves keeps them doing what they’ve always done best: plug in, follow the leader, and have fun for 45 minutes or so.
World record don’t go too deep. The opening lines of the album sum up its central message: “Love the Earth, such an easy thing to do.” Other times Young declares “You are not alone on this old planet” (“This old planet [Changing Days])” and “No more war, only love” (“Walkin’ on the Road [To the Future]).” These are simple messages, delivered in an effortless manner by Young, Nils Lofgren, Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot. Producer Rick Rubin rarely gets in the way, although his voice is heard at the beginning of some songs during the set. Like the last few predecessors, World record is a combination of laid-back acoustic songs and electric tracks, though only the 15-minute long “Chevrolet” allows the quartet to really stretch out like in the old days.
The album is more purposeful than Colorado and Let, with love songs reserved for the planet this time. It’s a looser record, too: Everyone seems to be feeling their way through opening “Love Earth” before settling on something resembling a groove, and “The World (Is in Trouble Now)” adds a wobbly pump organ to the usual Crazy Horse mix. There’s a relaxed simplicity to Young’s vocals (also shaky at times) that fits the overall tone of the project. Despite the subject matter, there isn’t much urgency to the songs or the performances. As Young sees it, everyone should already know what’s at stake. He is just doing his part to spread the same message he has been advocating for the last 50 years.
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Neil Young is one of rock’s most brilliant, confusing, defiant and frustrating artists.