Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s World Record an inspiring album

BY XAVIER JOHNSON

Maintaining inspiration and performing chops later in life is one thing that separates great musicians from certified legends. In rock music, there’s no shortage of older musicians still releasing records and touring, but it doesn’t always work. It’s hard to maintain a consistent output when an artist is decades into their career. But 77-year-old Canadian folk and rock pioneer Neil Young’s output and quality has remained consistent since the sixties. Young swoops in at the end of 2022 to deliver a new record that’s as strong as any record he’s released over the past decade.

World Record is Young’s 42nd album, a remarkable achievement that adds to his legend, paved with numerous lifetime achievement awards and an endless sphere of artistic influence. This status has allowed Young to go his own way with confidence, whether it’s through his music, political activism, or how this record was recorded.

The album was recorded live alongside longtime collaborative partners Crazy Horse, a similarly prolific group that brings a hardened edge to Young’s music whenever they get together. It’s a symbiotic relationship that has sustained for 15 albums spanning five decades, offering a powerful background to the stunning craft and lyricism he’s synonymous with. Crazy Horse is defined by its two original members bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina. The tight rhythm section has been the two consistent forces with a changing list of musicians throughout the band’s history.

The record’s production is impeccable. It’s another achievement for co-producer Rick Rubin. The instrumentation is clean. Every sound has its place and melds into a cohesive sound. There’s not a single part where any one element is overbearing. Despite the silky smooth production, World Record remains rough and gritty. Rubin was sent the live studio session and it was his task to nail the mixing. The palpable live energy was maintained, elevating every track on the record. There’s an unexpected quality that Young and Crazy Horse are able to conjure. It feels like listening to an old-school rock or folk record, but with modern pristine production.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER

The in-between studio banter, which is often lost in the recording process, is preserved on the record. In-studio conversations before songs are heard between band members, like on “Chevrolet” where Young is explaining the idea behind the song. Unlike some contrived “personal moments found on other albums that attempt the include those “raw” in-studio moments, these feel entirely organic. There’s an authenticity found on World Record, from the production to the song topics, that can’t be denied. Authenticity is likely the main quality that has allowed Young to stand the test of time. He wears his heart on his sleeve and on this record nothing changes. As an ardent environmentalist, Young’s concerns with the ongoing climate crisis are the primary inspiration behind the album’s 11 songs.

It’s a deeply personal album that draws upon Young’s personal life and perspective. It’s largely focused on the lasting impact of climate change and admiring the beauty of the world and lamenting what has already been lost. The record is both a call to action and a personalized love letter to the planet and why it must be preserved. It’s not necessarily outwardly aggressive in its political messaging, but it’s certainly not subtle.

World Record has two distinct sound profiles. There is a diverse combination of calm folk jaunts and energetic rock jams. The opener “Love Earth” is a gentle love song to the Earth marked by its measured pace, steady drums, and a smooth little piano solo on the backend. The piano returns in full force on the following track “Overhead,” a head-thumping tune with one of the stronger choruses on the album with its delightfully rough group vocals. It even has a pump organ on the ethereal bridge, a rarity in modern music but was a well-worn instrument during Young’s prime. “Walkin’ On The Road (To The Future)” is where that pump organ really shines. This song is a focused call for peace, declaring “No more war / Only love.” This bouncy slice of folk music is a nice, shorter experience that directs all the focus on the lyrics with minimal instrumentation outside of the standout organ and harmonica solo that pops in at the middle.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER

Despite the overall softer tone of the album, Young and Crazy Horse are able to deliver some strong, heavy rock vibes on a couple of tracks too. “The World (Is In Trouble Now)” is bursting with spirit with its chunky bass, pounding drums, and defiant vocals. World Record excels on a track like this, where the unconventional live recording style is really felt. Every instrument feels connected in a way that few rock songs are able to achieve nowadays. “Break the Chain” is another track that’s elevated by the production. As the heaviest moment on the album, soaked in distortion and outlaw energy, the roughness of the performance only helps the music. It feels authentic and raw and that’s when the record shines.

The standout moment on World Record is “Chevrolet,” a reflection on Young’s relationship with cars. The track is a reprieve from the environmental message and instead looks inward to tell a small-scale narrative. It’s a gritty rock epic that takes every ingredient that makes the album strong and puts them into one fantastic 15-minute journey. The bright guitar tone and Young’s spirited solos snatch the listener’s attention and keep it interesting for the lengthy runtime. There’s a refreshing looseness on “Chevrolet.” It feels like Young and Crazy Horse know the outline, but are filling in the details as they go. The song is filled with unexpected, jam-rock energy that pushes the song to astronomical heights.

World Record is absolutely worth listening to at least once. Young is a music legend that’s still writing solid songs and performing with youthful vivacity. There’s plenty to like throughout from the live performances to the well-written folk tracks that are a nice listen. If anything, make an effort to check out “Chevrolet,” it’s a standout track that should fit into anyone’s “best rock music of 2022” list. Overall, World Record has a place in the substantial Young pantheon and is a fitting conclusion to another great year for him.

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