...if there's nothing here to raise your blood pressure higher than a kitchen tap, it's still a pleasant stroll in an autumn sunset.
Lumbering proto-grunge plains-dweller, feedback curator unravelling songs in the time of the average labour, wistful homespun melancholic – everyone has their favourite Neil Young model. Time again, then, to separate the sheep from the goats and the buffalo from the crazy horses with ‘Silver And Gold’, touted as the third part of the ‘Harvest’ trilogy and his first album since 1996’s ponderous, flannel-choked ‘Broken Arrow’.
Just the title – silver-haired, golden memories – makes it sounds like recording was slotted in between lunch and a nap in front of Family Affairs, but this is no message in a bottle from the Twilight Home. For those who shy away from any musical endeavour that lasts longer than the time it takes to form a continent, ‘Silver And Gold’ should fall on their side of the fence. Gently acoustic, peacefully steeped in nostalgia and remembrance, it generates a warm glow of grace – always an achievement for a Legend – and if there’s nothing here to raise your blood pressure higher than a kitchen tap, it’s still a pleasant stroll in an autumn sunset.
The acute, bad-medicine melancholy might have mellowed, but Young can still pat the Zeitgeist on the head with an avuncular twinkle. While Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam rubbed against his rough edges in the early-’90s, it’s now the alt-country harvest who nod dreamily in his direction – Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, Lambchop. ‘Silver And Gold’ still bears the chalk dust and ink smudges of the old school, yet ignoring the maudlin ‘Daddy Went Walkin” – a step too close to Dylan’s terrifying ‘Froggy Went-A-Courtin’ – it’s a quiet pleasure. The opening ‘Good To See You’ and the title track seem to go nowhere but home, but the hand-stitched homilies and pin-drop guitar are enough to have you yearning for a pioneer husband. ‘Red Sun’, sweetened by old compadres Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, sticks to what it knows – dusk in railway towns – while ‘Razor Love’ wraps up warm in harmonica and well-worn metaphors. ‘Distant Camera’, despite an alarming similarity to ‘Green Green Grass Of Home’, again displays unabashed sentimentality – “All I need is a song of love from you”.
The most explicit act of regression is ‘Buffalo Springfield Again’. “Used to play in a rock’n’roll band”, wails Young, unsurprisingly, “We were young, we were wild, it ate us up”. Gazing across his “big green lawn” he hears a familiar song on the radio and decides he’d “like to see those guys again, give it a shot”. It’s slightly embarrassing, an elderly relative showing off school trophies, but the rampant ego is effectively muffled in a downhome strum. A career that’s lasted longer than certain radioactive compounds is bound to cause such problems and if ‘Silver And Gold’ is a polishing of past glories, at least he can enjoy his reflection without too much shame. It might be an old man’s indulgence, the Young equivalent of a Werther’s Original ad, all honeyed sunlight and nostalgia, but you can forgive him. After all, as he’d doubtless point out himself with a fond, grandfatherly twinkle, he’s someone very special, too