Neil Young & Crazy Horse Are Full of Personality and Passion on 'World Record'

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Are Full of Personality and Passion on 'World Record'
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Now 54 years and 42 albums into his career, Neil Young is as fervent as ever about quality control. Reaching out to producer Rick Rubin — who's notable for pushing aging musicians to capture the right vibe — while delaying the album several months to ensure he could release it on "high-quality" vinyl, the folk-rock icon is hitching his proverbial wagon to World Record.
 
Joined by his on-again-off-again backing band for the third time in four years, much of this LP hews too closely to Young's recent personal history to be considered a true Crazy Horse album. The closest he's come to crafting a true concept record since the largely uneven Greendale in 2003, World Record finds Young wailing and stomping over his (and humanity's) sorrow about our dying planet. 
 
However, there are tracks — like the scruffy "I Walk with You (Earth Ringtone)," the jaunty "The Long Day Before," and its facsimile "Walkin' On the Road (To the Future)" — that seem surprisingly hopeful and beautiful. On his third go-around with E Street Band member Nils Lofgren on guitar (who replaced Frank "Poncho" Sampedro after his 2014 retirement), World Record finds the quartet searching for new ways to harness the Crazy Horse energy. Across 36 minutes, Young covers a remarkable swath of musical ground, moving from Harvest Moon-era piano balladry on opener "Love Earth" to This Note's for You stomper "Break the Chain" to the 15-minute Rust Never Sleeps proto-grunge of "Chevrolet" — an ode to his iconic electric car. 
 
Working with Rubin for the first time in their career helped Young & Crazy Horse place a dynamic emphasis on each song; you can feel the nostalgic warmth that beams on the waltzing "This Old Planet (Changing Days)" and the undying fight behind "The World (is in Trouble Now)." That said, not much apart from the aforementioned "Chevrolet" comes close to his finest work, even though the quartet are far from going through the motions across these 11 tracks. Draping the LP with accordion, melodica and organ — which all coalesce on the downright joyous "The Wonder Won't Wait" — most of World Record seems indebted to a raga-like hum of wind instruments, adding a breathy atmosphere to these earth-worshiping laments. 
 
On paper, World Record is a middle-of-the-pack Neil Young & Crazy Horse album, but it's filled with so much personality and passion that it begs to be remembered as one of his most soul-bearing.  (Reprise)