In its own peculiar way, World Record
is as confounding as the previous two albums by Neil Young with Crazy Horse
. Yet it's far more compelling, this despite its comparably impromptu, borderline sloppy nature. This title might be heard as a progression from or an extension of Colorado
(Reprise, 2019) and/or Barn
(Reprise, 2021, except that the occasionally excessive air of spontaneity that permeates the material and the performances begs the question of how Rick Rubin contributed to this recording in the role of co-producer.
Consider the prominent use of piano beginning with the very first cut, "Love Earth," quite likely the instrument on it and two other tunes were composed. Then there's the use of pump organ on four numbers; . to be fair, the former Buffalo Springfielder used it before, on his Unplugged
(Reprise, 1993) album, but whereas he drastically reconfigured "Like A Hurricane" on that release, here he merely comps his way through "The World (is in trouble now)" (and the medium is not the topical message).
Young might well have recorded that and other similarly arranged tunes using the ivories in a solo format and just pulled in the rhythm section of The Horsebassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina to work in a trio setting with the latter instrument. Under those circumstances, however, the presence of Young's long-time collaborator, multi-instrumentalist Nils Lofgren
, would have been drastically diminished: his playing adds a variety of colors in the form of accordion on "This Old Planet (changing days)," pedal steel on "The Long Day Before" and lap steel on "Love Earth."
The erstwhile member of Bruce Springsteen
's E Street Band
does joust and chord along on electric guitar with the front man on the near-quarter hour "Chevrolet" that effectively closes the album (except for a brief reprise of "This Old Planet" as a carefully placed afterthought). This loud echo of past Crazy Horse LPs is exactly what was missing from the two preceding records and, as the logical extension of the similarly-configured "Break The Chain" here, the massive pulse of sound is as close as World Record
comes to anything on the order of a definitive statement.
It's not as if the words on it are much more vivid than those of "The Wonder Won't Wait," but only that the accompaniment is more arresting. The greater proportion of the lyrics here are otherwise the stream of consciousness images of a man with a wealth of experience ruminating on the significance of it all: ponder, for instance, the world-weary air that permeates "The Long Day Before."
If it weren't for the latent joie de vivre therein, Neil Young might sound like he's on the verge of giving up the good fight he's waged in recent years on the environmental front. But that would be tantamount to giving short shrift to the enduring friendship and intimacy to which he alludes on "Overhead," an undercurrent of which devotion to relationships ran through the previous pair of LPs.
As it stands, World Record
sounds like a collection of thoughts and feelings that might well occur to the artist while "Walkin' On The Road." Setting his sentiments and observations to music, then performing them with The Horse, there's no sense of hurry, but no abiding sense of purpose or direction either. As a result, this third entry in the modern day trilogy can seem redundant, superfluous or both, even considering the presence of that sole extended track which, in and of itself, is almost enough to make this title worth hearing and owning.
Only an artist like Neil Young, who has repeatedly relied on his instincts over the course of his half-century plus career, might be able to imbue a noble confidence into freshly-composed material approached with such abiding spontaneity. Therein, perhaps, lies the tacit value added through collaborating with Rubin, this despite the fact that it is not wholly clear what the latter's contributions are: did he help sequence the cuts logically, insure the immersive audio quality of the recordings at his own Shangri-La Studios or or simply act as a sounding board?
Neil Young is clearly (and understandably) comfortable with the support of the esteemed studio compadre as well as his favorite (?) band and perhaps too much so. Issuing a roughly forty-six minute album on two CDs may be for the benefit of the optimum sonics to which he's so devoted (or it could be a purely mercenary tack).
In the end, the Canadian rock icon renders what might otherwise be a flimsy throwaway into an ever so accurate reflection of himself at this juncture of his life. By extension, he's also offering a mirror of ourselves and our innate ambivalence about the world as we know it, circa 2022.
Consequently, the alternately mournful and jaunty harmonica he plays at a couple points on World Record
just about says it all. Except, perhaps, for the photo of Young's late father in his youth on the front cover (and members of his own immediate family inside), while he pictures himself in closeup on the back wearing an N95 mask.
Love Earth; Overhead; I Walk With You (earth ringtone); This Old Planet (changing days); The
World (is in trouble now); Break The Chain; The Long Day Before; Walkin’ On The Road (to
the future); The Wonder Won’t Wait; Chevrolet; This Old Planet reprise
Neil Young: vocals, piano, pump organ, harmonica, kick tub; Nils Lofgren: vocals, lap steel,
slide guitar, accordion, bottleneck guitar, acoustic guitar, tap sweep percussion, Billy Talbot:
vocals, Ralph Molina: vocals.