Album: Neil Young with Crazy Horse

Although the wildfires that destroyed the singer’s home in 2018 are unlikely to be the sole driving force behind this collection of environmentally-focused songs (he hitched his horse to this wagon decades ago) , they certainly seem to have focused his anger and given him a theme to follow for World recordhis 42nd studio album.

Following the success of 2021 barn, Young returns to familiar territory with long-time Crazy Horse collaborators (Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina, Nils Lofgren) for this second album in a year. The 10 new songs here are a mixed bag, from jack-knifing to loose limbs, sing-song countrystraight rockersbut all with a spontaneous “let’s show here” feeling.

Barbecue chicken aside, Neil Young is pretty much living proof that everything is better when it keeps it raw. World record sounds pleasant, often exciting, without repeating and, if you want to capture that atmosphere, co-producer Rick Rubin is an inspired choice – famous for the feel. Pre-song talk, live mic counts, and the sound of musicians following someone else’s lead give the songs here a wonderful urgency.

This is, unsurprisingly, more evident on heavier tracks, with Young’s trademark overdriven tone leading the charge. With “I Walk With You (Earth Rising)”, the album’s centerpiece “Break the Chain” and the 15-minute epic “Chevrolet” are all drenched in distortion and, aside from a few fairly pedestrian, happy lyrics, messy and worth the price of admission alone.

Which is probably just as well. Because while “Walkin’ on the Road (To The Future)” is blessed with glorious harmonies that dovetail perfectly with its knowingly naive sentiment, the mannered old-world tones that dominate elsewhere (“Love Earth,” “This Old Planet”, “The Long Day Before”) soon begins to cringe.

And while the music can be heart-pounding when it’s spontaneous and brutal… the lyrics? Well, not so much. There are times on World record where Young makes it look like he’s just doing stuff on the spot: “On the front page of the internet/You’ll never see about it/The big thing in the room/It’s happening right now”, he sings on “The Long Day Before”. I mean, fuck me – it’s barely, “Watch Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s”, isn’t it?

Sometimes brilliant, sometimes frustrating, simultaneously ragged, raw and unbearably twee, World record looks a lot like the man himself: a mix of genuine genius and frustrating duds.