Genre: Jam Rock
Favorite Track: “Think of Me,” “Help Me Lose My Mind,” “Milky Way”
Neil Young is a national treasure. This is a fact, especially if you’re from Canada. However, I would be a liar if I said I had really enjoyed any of his musical output over the past decade outside of 2010’s LE NOISE. So a couple months ago when I heard “Milky Way,” his latest single with Crazy Horse, I was more than pleasantly surprised at how great I thought it was. The guitars were perfectly crunchy, with simple but emotional leads, while feeling classically Crazy Horse, and the 73-year-old Young sounded like himself. I was in on COLORADO.
This time around, Crazy Horse is composed of original rhythm section Billy Talbot and Raph Molina, with Nils Lofgren handling guitar and organ duties. COLORADO opens with the folky “Think of Me,” full of classic Young harmonica and the band’s silky background vocal harmonies of old. The track is full of natural imagery that has yet to be corrupted by human activity, a strong theme throughout the record, and Young asks the audience to associate these natural occurrences with him as someone who has been fighting to inform us that we need to respect the planet for quite some time. The message is earnest, but tiresome at times, a fact that may not be lost on Young himself. On “She Showed Me Love,” the central 13-minute jam piece, Young opens with the line, “You might say that I am an old white guy / I am an old white guy,” as if to address those who would be critical of his environmentalist message. The track attempts to follow in the epic traditions of Crazy Horse’s longer epics like “Cowgirl in the Sand” or “Down by the River,” but doesn’t quite hit the same mark, dragging on for about six minutes too long.
It wouldn’t be a Neil Young record without more overtly political commentary: “Help Me Lose My Mind” is a dark, trudging journey through technological distractions as a way of subduing troubling thoughts towards the state of the world, while “Shut the System Down” is a call to action to… shut the system down. Young flies a flag supporting diversity in the face of prejudice in true Americana fashion on “Rainbow of Colors,” the second single off the record. These subjects and leanings are nothing new to Young’s work, but on COLORADO, it feels like the veteran rocker is issuing his warnings from the sidelines—those of us who have been aware of his vital presence know where to look, while others may be looking from a distance with indifference. One side note that does seem worth mentioning is that Young is appearing in an ad for Amazon music in his neverending crusade to find a digital platform that lives up to his standards… that’s certainly one way to shut the system down.
The album has its sweeter moments, including exploring an ageing man’s relationships with friends, lovers, and memories in songs like “Olden Days” and “Milky Way,” which find Young more vulnerable and reaching into his higher vocal range. The most tender moment however, comes in “Green is Blue,” Young’s lament to the planet he has slowly watched decay his entire life. As he condemns the media for their representations of the matter, he softly admits “There’s so much we didn’t do, that we knew we had to do.” Though the album has moments where he tackles the subject with anger and inspiration, Young is tired and slightly defeated here, aware that his rallying cries, along with the warnings of so many others, have gone unheeded. COLORADO is a testament that Neil Young is never going to stop doing what he has been doing since the late ‘60s, and the fact that there is still a Crazy Horse to help him is truly a gift from the Gods of Rock.