No one does a musical protest quite like Neil Young.
From penning “Ohio” with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to removing his music from Spotify last year, Young uses his music to stand up for what he believes in. But while his previous work has been overtly oppositional, his latest release with longtime collaborator Crazy Horse takes a different approach. World Record, released Nov. 18, isn’t the scathing, name-dropping album that The Monsanto Years was: Rather, it’s a love letter to a dying earth.
Through and through, the album is recognizably a Neil Young and Crazy Horse project. From the brash accompaniment to the countryside harmonies, it’s rooted in the ’70s classic rock sound they champion. While their music proves timeless, it sonically doesn’t offer much of anything new compared to last year’s Barn. Still, World Record offers some delicious, non-GMO food for thought.
Album opener “Love Earth” is exactly what the title sounds like. Sing-songy and stripped-back, the jaunty instrumentation bounces beneath Young’s lilting wail. In the accompanying music video, the 77-year-old musician walks barefoot in the outdoors, grounding himself to the planet he knows and loves. Similar to “Don’t Forget Love” on Barn, the track is simple in its message yet resounding in its importance; sometimes, it’s important to just stop and smell the roses.
A lot has changed since the ’70s — a fact Young doesn’t shy away from throughout the record. On “I Will Walk With You (Earth Ringtone),” he expresses gratitude at getting to experience life on this planet for all these years, and he finds beauty in the changing of the seasons. But set against a harsh, melodically murky backdrop, it also evokes a sense of sadness, which becomes especially keen as the track continues: “Walk with me now to the ends of the earth and you’ll see what the damage can be,” Young sings.
On the other hand, “This Old Planet (Changing Days)” addresses transience with more of a lighthearted, comforting air. As soothing harmonicas ripple in the background, Young reflects on his childhood and sings, “You’re not alone on this old planet.” Exploring the subject of change in different ways, Young shows how it can be both feared and cherished, and he strikes perfect balance between the two.
World Record doesn’t make light of harsh realities, especially on “The World (Is in Trouble Now).” However, the album remains overwhelmingly optimistic, presenting a vision of collective love and appreciation. “Because the earth has held me so, I will never let go,” Young sings. Indeed, he has held true to this promise, recently announcing that he will boycott any concert venues that support factory farming. If Young does one thing well, it’s reflecting his music back into his life; once he makes a point, he sticks to it.
Though his proclamations of “No more war, only love” may seem overly optimistic at times, they are endearingly so. A hippie to the core, the musician brings his rebellious roots to the present day, projecting a much more hopeful vision for the future. One can take a man out of the ’70s, but not the ’70s out of the man.
Through it all, the beauty of the planet shines through. From blooming flowers to falling leaves to snowy trees, Young’s lyrical imagery paints a vivid picture of a vibrant world. While this gives listeners much to be thankful for, it also draws attention to what is at stake. It’s joy and melancholy packed into one album, urging the planet’s present and future inhabitants to preserve and appreciate what they have.
From every sunrise to every “Harvest Moon,” Young has made it clear that he’s going to enjoy each moment he’s been given on planet Earth. The title World Record is fitting in this way, as it’s truly a record for the world — one that supports and enriches life, but is rapidly fading away.