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Neil Young - Chrome Dreams II Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 November 2007
format:    16-bit CD / 24-bit stereo DVD
performance:    7
sound:    10
released:    2007
label:    Reprise
reviewer:    K L Poore

ImageOnly Neil Young would release a sequel to an unreleased album that has become the legendary, and some would say mythic, rock equivalent of Love’s Labour’s Lost. The original, Chrome Dreams, ended up being dissected and spread across a few releases, and included among its cuts “Like a Hurricane,” “Pocahontas,” and “Look Out for My Love.” Chrome Dreams II sounds the opposite, as if cuts were gathered from unreleased albums and compiled onto it, or something akin to that.

Now one of the many things I love about Neil is that instead of pandering, or soliciting, his audience he tends to run away from it, knowing it will follow. It isn’t the most successful commercial strategy, but when it comes to making art it’s a perfect method for judging response and seeing where your vision rests in respect to current society. Over the course of his career there are a few times where I didn’t come close to catching up: the rockabilly album, Trans, and Hawks & Doves to name a few, but in turn I’ve discovered it’s fun to follow whereever he goes. I’ve got to admit I’m running after Chrome Dreams II and I’m not certain I’ll catch him.

The opener “Beautiful Bluebird” sounds as if it could have been pulled right off of Harvest with its gentle acoustic guitar, harmonica and snare drum foundation and “Out On the Weekend” chord changes. And the second cut, “Boxcar,” with its haunting banjo and reverby vocals, could have been from On the Beach. And … you get the idea. With Chrome Dreams II the impression I get is very (to make another literary allusion) “On the Road”-Kerouac. It’s all people, cars and movement and I can’t tell if Neil is traveling through some post modern landscape or his career, or both, as some kind of metaphor for “travel as life lived” and vice versa. He’s way too smart, and calculatingly artistic, not to have formulated a grand plan behind Chrome Dreams II, but I’m somewhat lost.

Getting back to the songs, and risking sounding like a moron 10 years from now when CDII is declared the greatest release in the history of recorded sound, I instantly loved “Dirty Old Man” and its dirty old guitar. If you love it when Neil breaks out Old Black and plucks, pulls and grinds it until you submit, then you’ll love it too. “I’m a dirty old man, do what I can/gonna get hammered and do it again.” It’s rock and roll as black comedy, and it makes me regret going to the bar last night … and anticipate going again tonight.

The 14-minute “No Hidden Path” leads me down one to Everybody Knows This is Nowhere by reinventing the “Down by the River”/Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression for the guitar break. It’s a place I love to go and actually got me to break out the EKTIN CD and play it loud for the neighbors. I wonder if that’s Neil’s intent?

Beyond those two cuts I’m falling far behind and my lungs are aching a bit, as if I’ve prepared for a 10k and CDII is a marathon.

I just know that one day (maybe after the current tour and he’s played it live a few times) people will look at the sprawling 18-minute glimpse into greed and its impact, “Ordinary People,” as one of the highlights of Neil’s career, but don’t ask me, at least right now. It’s filled with tragedy and odd humor and I bet it’s a lot of fun live but I’m not going to be playing it every night or even putting it into the company of “Cowgirl in the Sand” or “Rockin’ in the Free World” any time soon. It made me think but I just don’t know.

And that, in a nutshell, sums up the way I feel about Chrome Dreams II. It’s filled with attractive songs that seem to touch all of the facets of Neil’s career, except the aforementioned Trans, but I’m still chasing after the bigger picture and I haven’t even got a glimpse of his back yet. Whether it’s the delicate, soulful “Shining Light,” the “Walk On”-esque sound of “The Believer” or the Tonight’s the Night-like “Ever After,” I recognize the touchstones as I pass them, but still feel I’m falling too far behind.

What are you trying to tell me Neil?

Why Chrome Dreams II?

Why do you have to run so damned fast?

I hope I catch up to this release soon, because I think I’m missing something. Otherwise it’ll turn out to be a classic that’s not lost, just lost on me.

This is the best-sounding Neil release I’ve heard, and I’ve heard them all. It’s sparkling clean when it wants to be and fuzzy dirty when it needs to be. The DVD sound is gorgeous and very headphone friendly. I laid in the floor for a solid two hours jumping around to the tracks that I particularly liked while trying to get into the songs that are still outside my understanding. It’s all digitally recorded except “Ordinary People,” and you can’t really hear any difference there. The spatial mix is accommodating to those who like to focus on an instrument (for example Neil’s spine-stabbing guitar work on “Ordinary People” or “No Hidden Path”), and although it’s a studio album it has a really nice “there’s a band playing”-feel to it. There seems to be a strange clipped edit during “Dirty Old Man,” or then again it might be the cleanest break in recorded music history. Big thumbs up for all the listening places: stereo, home theater system, car, iPhone and my G5.

Extra Features
The added sound of the DVD makes purchasing the special addition worth while. The DVD itself has a Set Up section for music and picture and explains differences between the enhanced DVD, CD and MP3 sound quality for those who don’t already know. There’s a menu for those of you who like to read lyrics but it’s too bad you can’t read the lyrics while listening to the music. The songs are accompanied by photographs, from extreme close up to standard view, of the object representing Chrome Dreams II, one of Neil’s decaying cars. There are a few production photos and all in all it’s a nice package and good value.

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