One of the best things about being able to stream music is the ability to go through an artist’s entire back catalog. That’s what I did earlier this year with a number of artists, but one that I did not expect to explore was Canadian guitarist Neil Young, the man behind songs such as “Heart Of Gold,” “Old Man,” “Ohio” and “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Young released his second album of 2022 on Nov. 18.
“World Record” is also the 45th album of new material released by Young over approximately the last five decades, featuring the rock band Crazy Horse. For the most part, Young’s albums with Crazy Horse are pretty chaotic and heavy, full of distortion and rage, so imagine my surprise with the lead single, “Love Earth,” a soft, catchy, piano-driven tune.
The most notable thing about this track is how clean the production is. This is not a new sound for Young, as he famously switches back and forth between soft country and hard rock frequently, but seeing his raging rock band sing tracks about taking care of the planet is pretty amusing.
Lyrics like “Love Earth / Till the water and the air is pure / From the birds in the sky / To the fishes deep in the sea“ aren’t completely out of place for a Young album as he’s been tackling environmental topics for the last decade or so, but the band behind “Powderfinger” and “Down By The River” sounds very out of place here. For the most part, the album does not even sound like Crazy Horse was involved.
Finally, by track three, “I Walk with You (Earth Ringtone),” we get some of that iconic Crazy Horse sound, which continues to permeate many of the remaining songs. Even then, the sound feels restrained and more layered by the band’s standards. For example, one of the rockers on here is “The World (Is In Trouble Now).” Amidst the distortion, a very clear sound (maybe an accordion) takes the melody. This is an interesting development for a band that has more or less sounded the same for the last 50 years.
The other thing Young sings about in the album is mortality, as he settles into his autumn years. The second single, “Break the Chain,” which was promoted with a pretty terrible music video that looks like it was recorded via Google Meet, tackles this subject with lyrics like “I’m gonna love every breath that I take.” It has one of the catchier melodies of the album, and it certainly is the best of the harder rocking songs. Though it’s nothing too special, it’s still pretty solid.
In fact, that’s most of the album, really. None of these songs come close to Young’s best, but as a whole, it’s the most coherent and consistent album he’s made in years. Nobody’s going to pick any of these songs over “Like a Hurricane,” for example, but for an artist in his mid-70s who has been releasing material for over 50 years and has every right to retire whenever, “World Record” is surprisingly strong.
The best part about the album, however, is how good Young’s voice is. Granted, his voice is a bit of an acquired taste, but it is a taste I have acquired. His voice was pretty rough on “Barn,” his last album consisting of all new songs, but it is restored here.
Any new material from one of the most prolific artists of his generation is worth a listen, and “World Record” does not disappoint. Despite not having the same feel as some of his harder albums, it bears much more resemblance to his softer-leaning albums like “Harvest,” and it makes for a delightful listen. “World Record” is his best all-new album since probably “Le Noise” in 2010.