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For Neil, inconsistency
is a virtue

Neil Young - Chrome Dreams II
(Reprise / Wea)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Dec. 3, 2007
Neil Young

Review by John Halverson

Maybe the best way to listen to Chrome Dreams II, the latest Neil Young CD, is to use the shuffle button. Never one to do the expected, Neil has cobbled together Chrome II by combining new songs with several he first recorded in 1977 for a never-produced album, called-surprise, surprise- Chrome Dreams. Much of Neil's considerable repertoire is on display-the hard, the soft; the reflective, the in-your-face; the angry Neil, the softhearted Neil.

It's just another creative whim from an artist who just can't settle for what he did last time and who seems less interested in perfection than in emptying the vaults of his talent while he still knows the combination. Neil seems to find virtue in inconsistency.

Since Chrome is such a synergy of styles and because the songs only deepen the more they're heard, the shuffle button could open you up to musical surprises. If you listen to Chrome enough, the cut you thought was a caterpillar at first might well become a butterfly if you give it a chance. On one end of the spectrum is 18-minute "Ordinary People" a horn-drenched anthem, full of soul and populist sentiments-the lyrics of a Pete Seeger-era protest song but with the heart of the protests themselves. On the other end, "The Way," which closes the album, is more hymn than anthem. At first you might be put off by its "We Are The World" schmaltz. But if you get over the idea that raw-boned Neil has joined a girls choir, this mix of music and metaphor can become more comfort food than oddity.

Elsewhere on the CD, "Dirty Old Man" seems an unfortunate exercise in bad taste. Neil has never passed up a dangerous mountain he didn't want jump from, so you have to give him a pass every once in awhile. "Beautiful Bluebird" seems a bit too trite for a grown man to sing. While "Spirit Road" is the pounding Neil, full of willful resolve, spark and thunder. "Boxcar" is Woody Guthrie-like musing about spirits lost on the rails.

It's quite a confection from an old master. You decide what to listen to...or let the shuffle button be your guide.

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