Neil Young With Crazy Horse, ‘World Record’: Album Review

Neil Young is a man of many guises, but one that’s stuck with him since almost the start of his career has been of the environment-loving hippie. Way back in 1970 he sang, “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s,” predicting a decade of climate turmoil that’s only gotten worse since then. His commitment to the planet and its natural habitats hasn’t wavered, as he tackled issues big and small on albums like Ragged Glory, Greendale and The Monsanto Years over the past five decades.

He’s been on a pandemic-era roll lately, recording three albums in succession with his longtime, off-and-on backing group Crazy Horse. (He’s also been busy cleaning out his archives, dusting off nearly a dozen abandoned studio and concert projects in the same period.) World Record brings together environmental issues, Crazy Horse and another quickly assembled album (i.e., recorded live with no overdubs) that sounds like an extension of both the past few years and Young’s entire career.

Like 2019’s Colorado (which was recorded and released in the months before COVID, but which now seems to be the launching point of Young’s latest period) and 2021’s Barn, World Record can be messy and often unfocused. But Young and Crazy Horse’s allegiance to the material and themselves leads them to do what they’ve always done best: plugging in, following the leader and having a blast for 45 or so minutes.

World Record doesn’t go too deep. The opening lines of the album sum up its central message: “Love Earth, such an easy thing to do.” Other times, Young declares “You’re not alone on this old planet” (“This Old Planet [Changing Days])” and “No more war, only love” (“Walkin’ on the Road [To the Future]).” They’re simple messages, delivered in an unfussy manner by Young, Nils Lofgren, Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot. Producer Rick Rubin rarely gets in their way, though his voice is heard at the start of some songs during setup. Like its past couple of predecessors, World Record is a combination of laid-back acoustic songs and electric numbers, though only the 15-minute “Chevrolet” allows the quartet to truly stretch out like the old days.

The album is more single-minded than Colorado and Barn, with the love songs reserved for the planet this time. It’s also a looser record: Everyone seems to be feeling their way through the opening “Love Earth” before they settle on something resembling a groove, and “The World (Is in Trouble Now)” adds a wobbly pump organ to the usual Crazy Horse mix. There’s casual simplicity to Young’s vocals (also wobbly at times) that befits the overall tone of the project. Despite the subject matter, there’s little urgency to the songs or performances. The way Young sees it, everyone should already know what’s on the line. He’s just doing his part to spread the same message he’s been advocating for the past 50-plus years.

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Neil Young is one of rock’s most brilliant, confounding, defiant and frustrating artists.

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