He's been banging on about climate change for more than three decades and – well – maybe we should have listened to Neil Young, whose rage is palpable on his 39th album
Watch Liam Gallagher’s recent 73 Questions interview for Vogue and you’ll see him reach a moment of absolute clarity when asked which rockstar got old but managed to still stay cool. “Neil Young,” he nods after a split second’s thought, pausing as he stomps across a sunny Hampstead Heath. He is, of course, 100% correct.
Cool now for a whole half-century, Neil Young has been an icon to everyone from Alex Turner and Kim Gordon to Kurt Cobain and Nick Cave. A reluctant rock god, he doesn’t have the flamboyant swagger of Mick Jagger or Little Richard, but in his ragged plaid shirts he has something even better – authenticity. Rewind a couple of months to Young and Bob Dylan’s co-headline show in London’s Hyde Park. While Bob did his slightly curmudgeonly thing while reworking his back catalogue into un-identifiability, a gleeful Neil bought to his early evening show a fiery Extinction Rebellion attitude and the carefree, messy energy that so inspired the birth of grunge 30+ years ago. He might have been the opening act, but talk to anyone who went – the audience included Noel Gallagher, Jarvis Cocker and Kate Moss – and they’ll tell you that night belonged to Neil.
It’s no surprise, then, that ‘Colorado’ is such a triumph. The 73-year-old Young and his erstwhile backing band Crazy Horse’s first album together since 2012, it’s also the first to feature Nils Lofgren – latterly of fellow old-but-cool dude Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band – since 1971. Recorded in the Rocky Mountains, it shows a bold sense of self-awareness (“You might say I’m an old white guy…” he states pretty damn truthfully during the 13 minutes of grizzled groove that is ‘She Showed Me Love’), as well as a continued commitment to the environmental ideals that have marked most of his 50-year career. Sure, it’s not as relentless as 2015’s ‘The Monsanto Years’ – his concept album about the evils of the monolithic, genetically modifying agriculture business – but his commitment to a better way of doing things seeps through each of the 10 songs here.
‘Green Is Blue’ might sound like a gentle eco-ballad, but after Young contemplatively coos of how “we long for a better day”, he casts a doomy shadow over the Earth’s lot. “We heard the warning calls / Ignored them / We watched the weather change / We saw the fire and floods,” he sings, suggesting that we had our chance to do something to stop the damage wreaked by climate change, but now everything’s screwed. You wait for a redemptive closing line, a salvo that suggests it’ll all be OK. But there is none: instead there’s a glum image of a polar bear drifting off on a piece of ice to meet its lonely end.
Bit of a downer, right? Well, ‘Shut It Down’ harnesses that sadness and channels it into riff-heavy anger, offering a possible solution – killing off big business and starting from scratch. Oh, if only it were that easy, Neil.
The ragged ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’ finds him equally pissed off, tapping into a very modern kind of anxiety, with Young yelling into the void about the inconsequential practicalities of day-to-day life. Crescendoing into a chorus of fragile harmonies with the rest of Crazy Horse, Young’s trembling falsetto is as affecting as it’s ever been, his rage palpable.
Skip forward a few tracks though to the perky piano-led ‘Eternity’ and suddenly everything’s coming up roses. “Woke up this morning in a house of love / The birds were singing in the sky above,” sings Young like a Disney Princess in combat boots. A love song for his third wife, the Hollywood actor Daryl Hannah, whom he married last year in a secret ceremony, it’s a gorgeously gentle Americana ballad, with Young making like a starry-eyed cowboy, pitched somewhere between Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams. The slow-burning ‘Milky Way’ offers more of the same loved-up, woman-worshipping sentiment. He’s equally hopefully on the twanging ‘Rainbow Of Colours’, which flip things back to the political, its unsubtle anti-Trump message (“We’ll always be strong / When the people have spoken / And the walls are all gone”) roaring loud and clear.
Young’s message, then, is the same as it ever was: we’re fucked, certainly, but there is always hope.
Release date: October 25
Record label: Warner