Still Young at Heart: Neil Young's Sweetly Sentimental New Album Sounds like His Early, Some Say Best, Work
Ali, Lorraine, Newsweek
This isn't exactly my scene," says Neil Young, pulling his baseball hat low and slouching to avoid recognition as he shuffles through the ostentatious halls of the swanky Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, Texas. In a T shirt so old that the faded logo looks like a stain, Young slips into the elevator, causing fellow passengers to gawk in silent awe. When Young exits on the wrong floor, a college-age rider gasps: "Whoa, that was The Man!"
Remarkably, Young has remained The Man for three decades now. In all his ragged glory--craggy face, hair the same wispy mess it's been since his '69 solo debut--the eccentric composer is one of the few rock legends that haven't slipped down the inevitable slope of numbing mediocrity. The intensely private 54-year-old instead chose to team up with Pearl Jam on his last album rather than succumb to a "mature," easy-listening record. Even the recent reunion of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (whose 1999 album is approaching gold, and whose tour sold out) proved a critical success beyond the fast-cash nostalgia.
His 26th solo album, "Silver & Gold," adds yet another unexpected twist to Young's career. A radical switch from 1995's grunge masterpiece "Mirror Ball," this new, largely acoustic record is his most compelling return to simplicity since 1972's "Harvest." The sonic equivalent of looking through an old, treasured photo album, Young's new disc is a bittersweet journey through the idealism of youth, one that hits a graceful chord without ever lapsing into movie-of-the-week sappiness.
"A lot of songs have little scenes in them that are from my childhood, or from the child's point of view," says Young, looking uncomfortable in the sterile surroundings of the hotel's upscale conference room. Fidgeting, he dips his finger into a jar of jelly beans, swirling them up against the glass to create a tinkling sound. "You'll have little short stories or scenes that bring you somewhere. It's kind of like Francis Ford [Coppola]'s movie 'Bram Stoker's Dracula.' Remember that scene when the bat was flying over the city and there were little flashes of what was happening below? That's kind of what this record does. It goes from place to place, drops in, and you see little scenes, except it's not a city in Europe; instead, it's my experiences. …