Neil Young and Crazy Horse return after a two-year absence with a brand new reflection of the modern-day, Barn.
Age has only emboldened the unique croak of Young. Every creak and crack is a reminder of the mileage that he’s put on. Like a trusty old automobile, the rust is a sign of work and love. Young always kind of sounded like he was in his 70s, and now that he actually is in his 70s, the strange whines of bleated bray feel like the familiar hum of a trusty machine that’s seen some damage, but has never broken down.
The reference to “masked people walking everywhere / its humanity in my sights” on ‘Song of the Seasons’ would have been a dated reference a year or so ago, but now that we may never really find our way out of Covid-19 hell, it becomes a signpost for listeners to endearingly pinpoint exactly where Young’s head was at while recording.
This being a Neil Young record, you can count on a liberal amount of jumps back and forth between solemn acoustic fare and exciting electric rock and roll. The molten fuzz of ‘Heading West’ can easily fall into the bumpkin-esque country jaunt of ‘Change Ain’t Never Gonna’ without seeming out of place. Leaning heavily on his harmonica for songs like ‘They Might Be Lost’, Young can just as quickly dispense of it and crank his amp to ten on the album’s highlight, ‘Human Race’, which is sure to be the most crowd-pleasing cut from the album.
Although his lyrics are as incisive as ever, ranging from psychedelic trips to cutting political denouncements, it’s Young’s unmatched power on the guitar that makes the biggest impression on Barn. Paired with the impeccable technicality of Nils Lofgren, the resulting interplay is the most startling part of Crazy Horse that refuses to age. Young keeps trying to get Lofgren to let loose, while Lofgren makes sure to keep Young in check.
Young revels in his grievances on ‘Canerican’, splitting his identity in two as he balances his new status as an American with his long history as a Canadian. These kinds of obvious platitudes would seem overwrought in anyone else’s hands, but you can feel the passion and fury in Young’s voice and his guitar, ready to wage war for what he believes in.
The peak, as is always the case on a Neil Young album, comes from the sprawling guitar jam. Here, it’s the slow-burning ‘Welcome Back’ that lets Crazy Horse stretch out to grand lengths as Young ponders technology, politics, and nature. It’s easy to see Young as simply an old man shaking his fist at a world he doesn’t understand, but it’s clear that Young is creating with a purpose in mind, layering in different stories and ideas with the care of an expert painter. Just when it seems too heavy to go on, that’s when Young plugs in and lets his guitar do the talking. Young could always get out of his own way when necessary, and ‘Welcome Back’ proves that he’s only gotten better at it with age.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse are some of the most reliable institutions that rock music has ever produced. Whether you agree with Young’s constant shoehorning of politics or not, his and his band’s ability to conjure up country-fried psychedelic grunge remains some of the purest and most enjoyable music you could ever hear. Barn is the sound of an old master and his compatriots at work, not looking to redefine themselves, but simply add another chapter to their long-running legacy.