Neil Young: Chrome Dreams II

[Reprise Records]

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Neil Young is hearing voices again. They speak, and Neil follows their commands. This time 'round they've convinced him to release the sequel to an unissued album from 1977. Only Neil Young releases a sequel to a record that never came out.

Chrome Dreams II opens with a pair of cookie-cutter-yet-classic acoustic Young ballads, where we find Neil expounding on the waves of emotions inspired by observing a bluebird on the wind and a boxcar barreling down the track. Then things get weird.

A cursory glance at the liner notes reveals that "Ordinary People" is more than 18 minutes long. Even if you consider yourself a hardcore Young fan, you have to admit there's a part of you that instinctively asks, "Is he fucking kidding?" The song opens with his vintage Les Paul, "Old Black," firmly establishing "anything goes" on this outing. He takes 18 minutes and four gut-wrenching guitar solos to get across every nuance of his song/theory about the basic goodness of people that survives in the face of every kind of adversity. Throughout the tune we hear his slashing, ripping guitar tones that could stun a rhino, a horn section playing both in unison and trading feisty solos, honky tonk piano lines dancing between the vocals like a waitress weaving through a crazy crowded bar and an eerie synthesizer occasionally squeaking just beneath the din. Without an acoustic guitar or harmonica in sight, the song sums up Young's whole bizarre career and fierce individualism.

Hiding in the long shadow of "Ordinary People" languishes the soft, doo-woppy ballad "Shining Light," a Crazy Horse-like romp down "Spirit Road" and the ramshackle self-explanatory barn-burner "Dirty Old Man." But it's the flawed and sprawling majesty of "Ordinary People" that separates the men from the boys, drawing a clear demarcation line in the sand. It's a challenge well-met and well-rewarded to those few who dare.

Good ol' Neil. No left turn unstoned. Grade: A

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