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Neil Young, Crazy Horse’s ‘Toast’ is jam-packed slice of heaven

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JULY 08, 2022

Grade: 4.5/5.0

For Neil Young, love doesn’t burn out, and it doesn’t fade away — it slowly browns over until it’s a singed remnant of what once was.

On his latest Crazy Horse collaboration Toast, released July 8, Young evokes a relationship that is not yet over, but slowly rotting away. Originally recorded in 2001 at Toast Studios in San Francisco, the album was promptly shelved. “Toast was so sad that I couldn’t put it out,” Young wrote on NYA Times Contrarian. “I couldn’t handle it at that time.”

Young eventually repurposed many of the songs, but Toast represents the first time the original recordings have been presented together in the way they were meant to be heard. Though the collection has been sitting in the archives for almost two decades and most of the tracks have been heard before, Young’s timeless rock never grows stale.

Toast begins with a gentle rhythm and free-flowing electric guitar on “Quit,” an upbeat introduction to an album precluded by its own sadness. As the guitar descends down an undulating riff, Young’s wailing falsetto rises to the surface. “Don’t say you love me/ That’s what she said,” he sings, his words promptly echoed back to him. As Young attempts to salvage a dying love, the instrumentation belies his heartache, his melancholy subtly entwining each mellow refrain.

Electricity pulses through “Standing in the Light of Love,” a lively successor to an understated opening track. Similar to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” the song builds upon a gritty, galvanizing guitar riff, each note rife with unreleased tension. As the song progresses, Young’s swimming turns to drowning, his marching to drudging. Somewhere behind the overdriven guitar, the musician is reaching his breaking point.

Young thrives in the realm of metaphor; his lyrics need not mention heartbreak to reflect his inner turmoil. Previously unreleased “Timberline” ostensibly tells the story of a lumberjack wrestling with his faith. His life upended and out of his control, he angrily faces defeat. On “Goin’ Home,” Young spans an ambiguous stretch of space and time, buildings and battlegrounds blurring into one another. Even as Young repeats, “I’m going home,” listeners get the sense that the singer belongs nowhere. Commanding yet strained, Young’s voice attempts to grasp onto something intangible.

Each song on Toast leans on the lengthier side, but that by no means stifles its momentum. The seven-minute-long “How Ya Doin’,” which was previously released in 2002 as “Mr. Disappointment,” reflects the push and pull of a dying relationship, each guitar interlude a dialogue with regret. “I’d like to shake your hand/ Disappointment/ Looks like you win again/ But this time might be the last,” Young laments.

For thirteen minutes, “Boom Boom Boom,” a variation of 2002’s “She’s a Healer,” revels in murky, textured experimentation. While the first release was characterized by a low, groveling register, here Young opts for an airy tenor. Though recognizable, his voice is notably drawn back, delicate as he surrenders his desire to control.

“All I got is a broken heart/ And I don’t try to hide it/ When I play my guitar,” he sings before his voice bends beneath the shadowy instrumentation. Young is a master lyricist, but sometimes, the guitar says what words cannot.

It is not uncommon for Young to reach into the vault and excavate old recordings. From Young Shakespeare to Way Down in the Rust Bucket, his resurfaced works glisten with enduring appeal. However, Toast stands apart from the rest — not only because of its fabled existence for over two decades, but for its ability to memorialize a painful period in Young’s life with immediacy and candor.

Rather than a Journey Through the Past, Toast is the elongation of a former present. Each track invites listeners to linger in Young’s bygone love, feeling the slow, toasty burn of a relationship’s end.

Lauren Harvey is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].
LAST UPDATED

JULY 07, 2022


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