Thursday, December 14, 2023

Neil Young - Chrome Dreams

Neil Young
Chrome Dreams
**** out of *****

Back in the summer of 2019 when RtBE discussed Neil Young's best studio albums we mentioned this in our Freedom blurb: 
We should state here and now that while not official, Chrome Dreams which "Too Far Gone" first appeared on, is one of our all-time favorite things Neil ever did..err didn't do. It would have made our list if it was a real release. 
Well now it is one, and oddly there is zero difference, outside of the album cover, from the bootleg we obtained decades ago. 

The history of this 'white whale' album is well known to Young fans, it was slated to be released in 1977 and would have been another staggeringly great record, but was scrapped at the last minute by the artist and he instead released the less than great American Stars 'n Bars. The bootleg was so infamous that Neil released Chrome Dreams II as a joke on the original. The bootleg, or reconstituted copies of the original idea, some directly from the original acetate, have been around since it was scrapped, and for some reason Young decided to "officially" release it this year. 

Young does a lot of strange things, following his muse more than any other major rock artist, and he conforms to no one. He has made a habit of releasing other shelved albums recently such as Homegrown and Hitchhikeryet this one feels different. 

Maybe because it was so well known, maybe because there is literally no difference from the official release and the bootleg musically, maybe because I personally have listened to it already so much it just doesn't feel like a real release or maybe because it just should have stayed in the "what could have been" files.

All of these songs have also been released already, in these exact forms, on different albums so the effect now is like a bizarre greatest hits package as opposed to a focused album. Perhaps it is the fact that Young is now trying to get over on the bootleggers from decades ago, who knows, but by releasing these albums seemingly at random, decades after not wanting them to go out at all, after already striping the records of songs for future official releases, some of the magic is gone from the discovery phase.

Unlike Dylan's Bootleg series, there are no new renditions, demos, phrasing, just the original songs which fans have already heard hundreds of times. 

What can't be discounted is the quality and the songs themselves on Chrome Dreams. Taken from various sessions throughout '74-77 Young displayed dynamic range and power with his playing and writing. Each song here hits home, the delicate "Star of Bethlehem", the ripping "Like A Hurricane", the bouncing heady fun of "Homegrown", the punk stomp of "Sedan Delivery", the majestic riffs of "Powderfinger" are all fantastic. Having them in one collection is great, the recording is rich and Neil sounds strong, but it has all been heard before, so rather than a five star all-time rating, four stars will have to do.   

That said, new fans who have never heard Young could not find a better entry point to his catalog and will be rightfully enamored. Had Chrome Dreams been released in 1977 it would have been one of Neil's best albums ever. As it stands in 2023, with these songs now already having been officially released on other albums for decades, it is a nice reminder that Neil contains multitudes.  

Support the artist, buy the album, peep the video below:

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