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October 26, 2007

Shortcuts—Neil Young's Chrome Dreams II

Don Corleone needed more screen time. Gordon Bombay had an important second wind. Sequels happen all the time.

Neil Young’s Chrome Dreams II, released on Tuesday, is a slightly different kind of sequel. Chrome Dreams was slated to come out in 1977, but Young never released it.

The scrapped album contained an eclectic mix of tracks released on later albums, along with some that have never been officially distributed.

Chrome Dreams II is a striking counterpart to Young’s politically charged Living With War. The material on the former is an interesting collection of styles and moods, whereas the latter antiwar record demonstrates that the music is secondary to the message.

A ridiculous song like “Dirty Old Man” on Chrome Dreams II is an anomaly on the album. The country tinge of “Ever After” is enhanced through the beautiful Dobro playing of Ben Keith. Keith has worked with Young for over 30 years, playing on several albums such as Harvest and Prairie Wind. Three tracks on the album were written years ago and abandoned for reasons known only to Young. The three previously unreleased tracks “Beautiful Bluebird,” Boxcar,” and “Ordinary People” kick off the album.

Chrome Dreams II contains driving rock songs like “Spirit Road” and “No Hidden Path,” which show that at nearly 62, Young has no intention of pulling over to the side of road anytime soon. He’ll keep driving until there is nothing left in the tank.

While there are many reasons one should buy the album, only one matters. Young’s Herculean “Ordinary People” is an epic track worthy of the artist’s already crowded musical pantheon. Clocking in at over 18 minutes, “Ordinary People” is a monumental work, a sprawling rock narrative with driving guitar, saxophones, trumpets, trombone, and keyboards. It tells the stories of people from every walk of life and on every heading on the moral compass. Some may recall Young songs such as “Like a Hurricane” and “Cortez the Killer” upon hearing “Ordinary People” because of the song’s hard rock edge. However, the song more appropriately recalls two of Young’s more lyrically complex songs, “Ambulance Blues” and “Thrasher.”

As long as Neil Young has dreams, his chrome heart will always shine.

—Oliver Mosier