May not be the Neil Young and Crazy Horse album long-time fans want, but it’s what we’ve got.
Perhaps now more than any other time in his half-century-plus long recording career, the prospect of a new Neil Young record must be approached with (unfortunately) a certain degree of trepidation. To be sure, he’s had his moments off and on over the past several decades, but the bulk of his recorded output in the ‘10s has been severely lacking in terms of quality control. Always a prolific artist, Young’s earlier records could at least be counted on to, even at their most questionable, maintain some semblance of having been produced by an “artist.” His track record within the last decade has left much to be desired as the quality has decreased precipitously in direct contrast to the increased quantity of recordings being issued under his name.
But, with his trusty foils in Crazy Horse by his side, a certain degree of optimism tends to creep back into the mind of the jaded listener. This isn’t necessarily a “fool me x-amount of times”-scenario so much as a “he’s at least got the potential amplifier worship of Crazy Horse behind him to allow his guitar(s) to do more of the talking”-kinda deal. In the case of Colorado, the latest collaboration between Young and Crazy Horse, the end result winds up somewhere in between the two.
Part of this is due to the palpable absence of Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, whose gnarly guitar tone and fiery fretwork often helped push Young into some of his wildest territory on the instrument. In his place, Young has enlisted Nils Lofgren, a longtime Springsteen acolyte, and occasional Young collaborator, particularly during Young’s early-to-mid-‘70s creative peak. An equally great guitarist, albeit of a very different ilk, Lofgren’s presence helps ground Young in the history of some of his best work, but within a far more polished sense than Sampedro’s blistering six-string histrionics. The end result is something that sounds like a cross between a middle-period Neil Young record and a proper Neil Young and Crazy Horse collaboration.
Opening track “Think of Me” sounds exactly like any number of tracks from Young albums dating back to his mid-‘90s revival, waxing nostalgic on the aging process and all it entails. It’s well-trod thematic territory that, with its gentle, Laurel Canyon-esque country rock underpinnings is a welcome return to form of sorts, compared to such head-scratching fair as Peace Trail or The Visitor. With its prominent acoustic guitar, single-note harmonic wailing and gently galloping piano, “Think of Me” is about as good as we can expect from Young these days, it seems.
“She Showed Me Love” is the other side of the coin, the ham-fisted political posturing that, while well-intentioned, comes off as awkward. “You might say I’m an old white guy/ I’m an old white guy,” he sings, embarrassingly stating the obvious and immediately thereafter hammering the point home. “And if I tell you what I see/ You might not believe me/ I saw old white guys trying to kill Mother Nature/ …I saw old white guys trying to kill Mother Nature!” All underpinned by half-hearted harmonies and a basic guitar riff that could’ve been cribbed from a million other Neil Young songs (but more specifically, “Cinnamon Girl”).
At more than 13-and-a-half minutes, it’s pretty standard NY/CH fuzzy guitar noodling around a rather thin lyrical structure – jamming for the sake of jamming and, more than anything (perhaps) just to fill a little space on the record. It’s also where Sampedro’s absence is most acutely felt as Young’s guitar merely fizzes and sputters, only occasionally going off on more shred-tastic tangents that merely hint at what’s come before. The longest track on the album by a mile, it’s more an endurance test and attempt to replicate the idea of what a NY/CH record should sound like than representative of what Colorado has to offer.
“Olden Days” quickly swings back into the “Think of Me” territory, Young catching up with an old friend and reminiscing about, well, the “Olden Days.” It’s something he seems contractually obligated to do at least once an album since at least Harvest Moon. But as with anything Young-related these days, these exercises in nostalgia offer up a law of diminishing returns in terms of quality and memorability.
Only on “Help Me Lose My Mind” does he manage to recapture some of that NY/CH magic, slipping back into his well-worn Godfather of Grunge flannel for a (relatively) blistering track built around the middle of his vocal range (thankfully, given the cringe-inducing weakness of his falsetto these days) and filled with, if not vitriolic rage, at least old man anger of the progressive varietal (thankfully, given the mindfuck that is the old man anger currently controlling this country). Here he unleashes his most aggressive, antagonistic, almost atonal guitar riffs, sounding like a proper NY/CH track.
The remainder of the album is pleasant enough, all things considered: “Green is Blue” carries a very strong Lofgren influence in terms of its borderline chamber music instrumentation (its lyrical content is pure latter-day Young); “Milky Way” looks back to Everybody Knows This is Nowhere for inspiration, coming off as a third or fourth-rate “Cowgirl in the Sand”; “Eternity” attempts to capture some of that After the Gold Rush, piano-based magic to varying degrees of success; and closing track “I Do” goes full acoustic, contemplative Young with a series of semi-poetic lyrics dealing with love and the passage of time (natch).
Colorado may not be the Neil Young and Crazy Horse album long-time fans want, but it’s what we’ve got and, compared to what Young has given us lately, it’s good enough for now.