Neil Young with Crazy Horse
Neil Young & Crazy Horse have been keeping their studio and axe skills extra sharp the last few years: In 2019, they dropped a solid effort with Colorado, and then swung wide with the prairie-rock highs and lows of Barn in 2021. Neil and his merry band of musical misfits also recently shared the archival releases Way Down in the Rust Bucket and Toast. Rust never sleeps, and the same goes for Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
Neil’s 42nd album World Record was recorded by Rick Rubin at his Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, where Young also recorded his primarily acoustic 2016 project, Peace Trail. The sleeve art for the new LP may feature a photograph of Young’s father Scott, but this isn’t really an album that looks back as much as it lifts a weary head, setting its clenched jaw into a singular mold, and takes rickety steps toward an ominous political and environmental future. Many of the album’s best tracks deal with the state of America today, the global climate crisis, and the shaky state of communal truths in a post-pandemic world.
Opener and early single “Love Earth” has a pleasant Harvest Moon–like approach as it plunks along with its guitar- and piano-led melody. “Overhead,” “The World (Is in Trouble Now),” and “Break the Chain” are loose and bluesy numbers with Crazy Horse. All three tracks manage to keep the band’s wheels on as the songs explore some crunchy moments.
Crazy Horse is typically at its best during vagrant and thunderous electric guitar storms such as “I Walk with You (Earth Ringtone)” and “Walkin’ on the Road (to the Future).” Young’s 15-minute epic “Chevrolet” retreads and somewhat reckons with the climate crisis and his longtime love of classic American cars, but this electric guitar marathon runs on old fuel from the ’70s run of Crazy Horse albums. It doesn’t have that same new and renewable source of musical energy that Colorado plugged into during its longer song runs.
Elsewhere, “This Old Planet (Changing Days)” is a tragic paean to Mother Earth, and the wheezing waltz “The Long Day Before” is solid enough without making a substantial impact. “Real magic lasts and we think we have it,” says Young about his continued work with Crazy Horse. There’s certainly magic in some of World Record’s music, but many of its moments are well-worn journeys through the past with a bit less punch and panache this year. Wait for 2023 and Neil and friends will most likely be back with a fresh crop of records for our ever-evolving brave new world.