The problem, of course, lies in Neil's tendency to channel whatever vibe he's into, and proceed without the intervention of an editing force. That means if you’re into concise statements you’ll be steering clear of the opening Driftin' Back here.

Actually, if you’re into concise statements you’ll be steering clear of Waging Heavy Peace as well.

Driftin' Back is, to a large extent, symptomatic of the whole of the sprawling double CD statement, and your reaction to the track will probably define your attitude to what follows the twenty-seven and a half minutes. For a start the Hey now now, hey now now chorus reperesents a substantial, and quite effective ear-worm. 

I’ve been trying to get the thing out of my head for days, but, on the other hand, the grumpy old man trying to find inner tranquility while everything around him needles his consciousness gets your goat after two or three hearings. Having read WHP you know where he stands on his new format for high quality digital music and the rest of his critique of spirituality, MTV, contemporary listening habits, the degradation of sound quality in recorded music (when you hear my song you only get 5 percent, you used to get it all) and the reduction of Picasso’s art to digital wallpaper hardly comes as a surprise.

The band speeds up and slows down, ebbs and flows, locks together and drifts apart as Young scatters verses across the landscape, filling the rest of the terrain with swathes of guitar like you haven’t heard since, well, the previous NY/CH recoding.

There are two takes on Psychedelic Pill, which comes across as daughter of Cinnamon Girl, the first phased to within an inch of its life, and the second, more straightforward reading closes the double album. Apart from the CG Revisited bit, there’s a healthy serve of Dirty Old Man in there as well. Strangely, given the time differential between its 3:28 and 3:13, it doesn’t work nearly as well as the preceding half hour of Drifting Back, though the phasing definitely brings back memories...

But the marathons resume with close to seventeen minutes of roughhewn guitar on Ramada Inn, a clear-eyed and coherent not quite eulogy for a long-term relationship now that the kids have grown up and flown the nest. It’s Greendale-style storytelling, uncharacteristically focussed as Young looks at the sacrifices it takes to keep things afloat, more than a quarter of an hour of shimmering sentiment and melancholy analysis conducted in the temporary shelter of a motel room against an alcoholic background. Gut wrenching, epic, and arguably as good as anything he’s done in forty-plus years.

Born In Ontario closes the first disk with a trip down memory lane, cousin of Homegrown in much the same way that the title track reflects past glories. It’s a paean to his birthplace and his Canadian heritage while acknowledging the good fortune he’s experienced since leaving the prairies behind. It rocks along nicely, offering much needed light and shade after Ramada Inn, and if there’s a track hereabouts that’s suited to high rotation on the radio this, rather than the title track, is it.

Or maybe it’s Twisted Road‘s recount of Young’s early encounters with the music his heroes—Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Roy Orbison and the Grateful Dead—produced in their heyday, with Dylan’s lyrics rollin' off his tongue/Like Hank Williams chewin' bubble gum. Let’s just leave it at lightweight, shall we?

She's Always Dancing repeats Driftin’ Back’s acapella intro > thudding Horse jam treatment and seems to reprise the title track’s pill-popping bopper for around eight and a half minutes of riffing between vocal choruses. Tight harmonies, trademark Neil guitar, it’s pleasant enough, but on an album that includes something like Ramada Inn most other tracks are going to pale by comparison.

Continuing a long held Neil tradition, For The Love Of Man brings out a song that’s been around for years (as in Silver and GoldOrdinary People and Hitchhiker) and provides a welcome change of pace with a comforting ballad and a lyric that pays tribute to Young’s severely handicapped son Ben.


© Ian Hughes 2012