Neil Young Essay - Critical Essays

Young, Neil


Neil Young 1945–

Canadian songwriter and musician.

Neil Young has been a major force in rock and roll since the debut of the Buffalo Springfield in 1966. Before that he had toured small clubs in Canada as a folk singer. With Springfield, Young emerged as an imaginative lyricist and guitar player. After the break up of the Buffalo Springfield, Young began preparing for a solo career. In 1969, he released Neil Young, which disappointed those who knew his work from the Buffalo Springfield days. Young then met a group of musicians known as the Rockets. Renamed Crazy Horse, they played with Young on his next album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Although better than the first album, it was not very successful commercially. Young then joined Crosby, Stills & Nash, at Stephen Stills's request. Young's music, basically a different style from CS&N's, added a new dimension to their sound.

After the Goldrush was released in 1970, and is generally conceded to be Young's finest work. Suggested by many reviewers for album of the year, After the Goldrush was rock and roll with a touch of folk music and poetic lyrics. With the works after this album, however, Young's popularity and commercial success suffered a definite drop. Young ventured into filmmaking with his retrospective Journey through the Past. The sound-track, released under the same title, was somewhat more successful than the film. Tonight's the Night is a starkly depressing album, expressing Young's bitterness over the drug-induced deaths of two friends and coworkers.

Yet there were still many strong Young followers. As Young expressed it: "Somehow, by doing what I wanted to do, I manage to give people what they don't want to hear and they still come back." Young's music is influenced by his own experiences, and because his lyrics often mirror his life and career, many of his followers picture him as a melancholy loner. Young feels the phrase, "rust never sleeps," the title of his latest movie effort, reflects his whole career—always being beyond the latest release, trying to keep a good thing from going bad. For Neil Young, constant change and keeping one step ahead of his public is the essence of his work.

Paul Williams

Buffalo Springfield … is a lovely, moving experience. You have to be into it, however; chances are you won't even like it on first hearing. All the songs seem to sound alike…. There are certain samenesses in the Springfield's material, and if you hear them on one of their rare off nights, you'll be quite bored. But what the Springfield does is rise above these samenesses, employing beautiful changes and continually fresh approaches within their particular framework. The more you listen to this album and become familiar with it, the more you'll see in each song. (pp. 47-8)

But the album, despite it all, is beautiful. Every track on it will entrance you, at one time or another. "Clancy" will probably be first—both melody and lyric hit very hard, and once the rhythm changes and the phrasing sink in, you're done for. The objectivity of the song is heartbreaking: "Who should be sleeping that's writing this song/Wishin' and a-hopin' he weren't so damn wrong?" Straightforwardness—with a sort of implied understatement—is characteristic of the Springfield. (p. 48)

"Flying on the Ground" is the song that knocks me out the most just now. It's an unassuming little love song that walks all around the edges of rock's oldest clichés and comes away quietly fresh. (p. 49)

[Neil is a talented songwriter] quite apart from writing for a specific group—[his] songs would surely be recorded, though not the same way, if there were no Buffalo S…. [Neil is] capable of unusually clever lyrics, song structures and changes that work well, and light, effective melodies. (p. 50)

Paul Williams, "Bleshing: Buffalo Springfield" (originally published under a different title, in Crawdaddy, March, 1967), in his Outlaw Blues (copyright © 1969 by Paul Williams; reprinted here by permission of the author), E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1969, pp. 41-57.

Neil Young is fresh in the biz as a folk soloist…. His style marks a new Canadian approach also employed by Ontarian David Rea and others. Mannerisms show influence from Bob Dylan's surrealistic period, circa "Highway 61 Revisited." However, the strong feel for the country remains a binding factor between the "new" and "old" schools.

"Another Wave of Pop Style Setters Begins Streaming Down from Canada," in Variety (copyright 1969, by Variety, Inc.), May 28, 1969, p. 59.

Bruce Miroff

In several respects [Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere] falls short of [Neil Young]. Young's new material is a little disappointing…. [The] lyricism of the first album can only be found in faint traces here. But despite its shortcomings, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere offers ample rewards.

The most interesting tracks on the album are "Running Dry" and "Cowgirl in the Sand."… The lyrics [of "Running Dry"] are a bit over-dramatic, but the music and vocal manage to transcend them, creating the feeling of a dimly understood tragedy.

On "Cowgirl in the Sand" everything works. The lyrics are quietly accusative.

Bruce Miroff, "Records: 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1969; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 39, August 9, 1969, p. 36.

Richard Williams

Neil Young's "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" was far and away the standout of the otherwise undistinguished first album from the late Buffalo Springfield, and through "Broken Arrow" to "The Old Laughing Lady" one has watched the growth of a very individual talent….

I'm certain that Neil Young will continue to knock more and more people out with his unique songs of despair and alienation—and, once in every while, happiness.

Richard Williams, "Stills and Young," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), January 10, 1970, p. 5.∗

Alan Lewis

[Buffalo Springfield] produced some of the most distinctive and thoroughly enjoyable sounds to come out of [the West Coast rock revolution of 1966/7]….

[The] Springfield used subtlety, understatement and clean, tight playing as their stock in trade….

Perhaps they were ahead of their time….

Starting with their name, with its echoes of the Old West, they retained a simple, down-home flavour throughout their work—even in songs using unusual structures, time signatures and orchestral arrangements, like their epics "Broken Arrow," "Expecting To Fly" and "The Hour Of Not Quite Rain."…

Neil Young was the voice of the loner. His songs tell of love, loneliness, regret and despair….

The group also managed to tell a few truths about America in songs like "Mr. Soul" and "Broken Arrow." But the message is firmly in their music—not strung around their necks like a millstone like so many groups….

Alan Lewis, "Personal Opinion," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), January 17. 1970, p. 7.

Ellen Sander

Neil Young … joined Crosby, Stills and Nash just about the time when their first album was completed…. Young has added a dark side to the group's sound, which partially accounts for the dramatic transition of their music from the first to the second album, Déjà Vu…. (pp. 71, 79)

Déjà Vu … varies a great deal in texture as compared with the first album, and there is an undercurrent of conflict which runs sporadically through the songs, breaking them apart, hurling them against one another, giving the album a sense of being jarred, startled, and, in parts, unsettled….

Neil Young's songs are alone and disturbing, fascinatingly introverted, and more imposing...

(The entire section is 189 words.)

Richard Williams

["After the Gold Rush"] stands up to listening better than it does to criticism….

Certainly, "After The Gold Rush" has its faults … the album is too much a collection of separate and distinct songs to make it acceptable to those who demand some kind of linking thread to run through a record.

Stylistically it lies somewhere between the first and second albums: the arranged tightness of the first is mingled with part of the jamming spirit of the second, and in some cases the result is an ideal blend…. There are … two remarkable beautiful pop songs, a stately minuet called "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and "When You Dance I Can Really Love," which is a really happy...

(The entire section is 188 words.)

Bruce Harris

If [After the Goldrush] had been anybody's album but Neil Young's, it would have been an achievement. Indeed, it may seem to be an achievement to that unfortunate majority who know Neil Young only from his work with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and not from the Buffalo Springfield or from his two previous solo albums. After The Goldrush is pleasant enough, but it lacks intensity and genius….

[It is] the first Neil Young album to be anything less than brilliant….

Neil Young could be the most underrated, overlooked, and unjustly ignored record in rock and roll. It is overproduced, overarranged, and grossly overdone, yet for all its excesses, it nevertheless...

(The entire section is 600 words.)

Alan Lewis

The Mona Lisa has nothing on Neil Young. Enigmatic is probably too precise a word for a man whose songs defy any attempt to pin him down.

He is all things to all men….

He is also one of Rock's greatest songwriters, wrapping up small nuggets of truth and pain and beauty in melodies which have the haunting simplicity of songs half-remembered from childhood and lyrics which, like the best songs of Dylan and Lennon, can be interpreted on many different levels.

It is the elusiveness, the mysteriousness, of many of Young's songs which makes them so precious. Because they are not explicit, each listener can interpret them in a way which is meaningful to him or her....

(The entire section is 221 words.)

John Mendelsohn

On the basis of the vast inferiority relative to his altogether spectacular Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere of the two albums he's made since teaming up with Crosby, Etc. (and thus insuring that he'd never again want for an audience), it can only be concluded that Neil Young is not one of those folks whom superstardom becomes artistically.

Harvest … finds Neil Young invoking most of the L.A. variety of superstardom's weariest cliches in an attempt to obscure his inability to do a good imitation of his earlier self….

[On Harvest] Neil's lyrics dominate the listener's attention far more than befit them. Neil's verbal resources have always been limited, but...

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Alan Lewis

Let the buyer beware: "Journey Through The Past" is not The New Neil Young Album in any meaningful sense.

It's a ragbag collection of old Buffalo Springfield and CSNY 'live' cuts, and tapes from the "Harvest" session, seemingly salvaged from the cutting-room floor, all stitched together with snatches of conversation, a bit of community singing, a few sound effects, and a speech, courtesy of President Nixon. There's only one new song.

The justification for all this is that it forms the soundtrack of Young's autobiographical film of the same name. As a souvenir of the film, maybe the album stands up…. But taken on its own merits, this album is messy and frustrating, and...

(The entire section is 288 words.)

Jim Miller

The title of Young's newest record, Journey Through the Past, suggests a selection of tracks from the various phases of Young's career. Unfortunately, the album instead pawns itself off as a film soundtrack, although whether the existence of any film could justify the existence of this record is questionable….

It's sad but true that the best stuff on Journey is by the Buffalo Springfield….

[Some] six minutes of Buffalo Springfield songs and the approximately three minutes of "Soldier" are all that might conceivably edify the purchaser of Journey Through the Past. It is outrageous that this album was ever released. It is frankly exploitive of a faithful...

(The entire section is 175 words.)

Michael Watts

[The title track which opens "Time Fades Away" is Young's] own approximation of Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues."…

It's interested more with the sound of the lyrics and their rhythm than the content, and is taken at a fast clip.

The first two lines will give you an idea: "Thirteen junkies too weak to work; One sells diamonds for what they're worth." Glib, but it's got heat. "Journey Through The Past" is another title song, but from his movie.

It catches him in one of his more lachrymose writing moods, when the combination of his plaintive voice and funeral atmosphere becomes too much….

"Don't you wish that I could be here too?" he sings...

(The entire section is 307 words.)

Bob Sarlin

[Of] all the talents that came together … to form [the Buffalo Springfield], Neil Young is the only one who I believe has come close to artistry in his subsequent writing and performances….

Young's music is simple, and many of his lyrics share this simplicity…. [He] is capable of turning out songs that are ice-clear reflections of the times we're living in and the way young people see them. Most of the songs are very personal affairs, but when Young does attempt a political song, he is likely to come up strong, with a number like "Ohio," on the killing of four students at Kent State University. "Ohio," with its anger and powerful musical stance, is one of the best of the political songs of...

(The entire section is 399 words.)

Bud Scoppa

Time Fades Away has its virtues when taken on its own terms and not as the latest major work of a major artist. Here, Young seems to have consciously avoided the sober sense of importance that accompanied After the Gold Rush and Harvest…. For whatever reason, he's made a startlingly unorthodox album….

More than any of his earlier works, this record shows Young's reticence about being a public figure.

Young's privateness has always been at the heart of his writing and performing, right alongside his staunch moral sense. These two elements have been both his prime virtues and his main flaws. Both elements are evident in this new material, with uneven but...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Stephen Holden

Since his days with Buffalo Springfield, the shifts in Neil Young's preoccupations have presented a barometer of a generation's attitudes toward itself, reflecting the dissolution of political idealism and, beyond that, the end of the romance of youth itself. Even in such early ballads as "Sugar Mountain" and "I Am a Child," Young gently warned against living with the illusion of perpetual youth, while his childlike vocals tantalized us with the possibility. The pain of facing adult reality at an age and in an era that encouraged prolonged adolescent fantasy comprised the underlying theme of Young's first three solo albums, a trilogy that culminated in After the Gold Rush, perhaps the quintessential...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Dennis Fine

On the Beach is so uneven in both concept and delivery that it is more than just disappointing, it is, in many ways, disgraceful. For an artist as stimulating as Young to have lost his way musically for so long is enough reason to believe that he may just not "have it" anymore.

To be sure, there are a few moments of brilliance, even on such a sorry recording. When Young launches into "See the Sky About to Rain," visions of the old talent are readily in evidence. (p. 76)

But a song such as "Walk On" easily upsets this fluid feel. An indictment against those who criticize Young for his lifestyle, "Walk On" is its own tomb-builder. Vaguely disguised in a commercial, uptempo...

(The entire section is 425 words.)

Janet Maslin

Tonight's the Night is Neil Young's third washout album in a row…. (p. 62)

[Tonight's the Night was conceived] as one long dirge in memory of Bruce Berry, a member of his road crew, and Danny Whitten, a musician with Young's original backing band, Crazy Horse (both of whom apparently died of drug overdoses)….

[In] the realm of thematic coherence, consider this wail from "Borrowed Tune" …: "I'm singing this borrowed tune/I took from the Rolling Stones/Alone in this empty room/Too wasted to write my own…." Young recently told Cameron Crowe of Rolling Stone that Tonight's the Night was "the most liquid album I've ever made…. You almost need a life...

(The entire section is 423 words.)

Dave Marsh

The successes [on Tonight's the Night]—the ironic "Tired Eyes," the deceptively sweet "Albuquerque," the thunderous "Lookout Joe" and the two versions of the title song—are Young's best music since Gold Rush. Lofgren's guitar and piano are forceful and direct, Ralph Molina's drumming apt on both the rockers and the weepers (the latter driven by Ben Keith's steel guitar). Young's playing, on piano, harp and guitar, is simple but constantly charged.

Still, the album shares with On the Beach a fully developed sense of despair: The stargazer of "Helpless" finds no solace here. The music has a feeling of offhand, first-take crudity matched recently only by Blood on the...

(The entire section is 637 words.)

Wayne Robins

[Tonight's the Night] is an album of resolute drugginess and obsession with death…. But mostly, it is about Neil Young and his nightride into devastation.

The atmosphere Young creates is that of a solitary figure riding through this album like a bad luck John Wesley Harding: a rootless, drug saturated hippie, cruising the west in search of the ultimate burnout….

This is not the work of a detached, millionaire pop star. Young has assimilated the collective unconscious of the knife wielding, gun toting, dope burning street people who populate western towns like Boulder or Santa Fe, the acid casualties of the counter-culture who'll call you brother but kill you for some...

(The entire section is 268 words.)

Bud Scoppa

Neil Young's ninth solo album, Zuma, is by far the best album he's made; it's the most cohesive (but not the most obvious) concept album I've ever encountered; and despite its depths, Zuma is so listenable that it should become Young's first hit album since Harvest….

If Tonight's The Night was bleakly, spookily black, Zuma—Young's "morning" album—is hardly suffused with sunlight and flowers. Apparently, tempered gloom is the brightest this love- and death-haunted epileptic genius can manage these days. But if, as a stubbornly solitary Young proclaims in "Drive Back," he wants to "wake up with no one around," in "Lookin' for a Love" he's still holding on to...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Kris Nicholson

Ever since Time Fades Away, Neil Young has been expressing himself with a personally spontaneous and haphazard simplicity. He abandoned structure and perfection for a looseness induced by senses that were dulled in order to ease the pain.

At least we can thank him for offering insights into emotionally vulnerable times. The mournful moments were allowed to sound as painful as they were, undisguised by musical perfection—which never really sooths the pain (viz. Joni Mitchell) but merely represses or identifies with it. The bumps, the wrong turns and the loosely recorded music of the last three albums captured the feeling of moments before they passed. Songs were raw because messages...

(The entire section is 179 words.)

Michael Watts

If "Long May You Run" is about anything at all, it is the concern of friendship.

Appropriately, therefore, the tenor of this record is mellow and reflective, especially on the first side, although there is nothing beyond the title song that is actually nostalgic. The mood is that of old pals, long since gone different ways but still mutually respectful, winding down in each other's congenial company…. For Young,… "Long May You Run" will surely not be credited with the "significance" of his last four scabrous, if often melodramatic, albums, and I confess I'm not altogether sorry about that. Since "Time Fades Away," his records, particularly "Tonight's The Night," have included remarkable, if...

(The entire section is 420 words.)

Ken Tucker

Long May You Run is like an old World's Finest comic book: the team-up of Superman and Batman always drained each of his most interesting characteristics. Like Superman, Stephen Stills is a rather muscular lunkhead of a personality; Neil Young's Batman is less heroic—shadowy and darkly mortal. The music on Long May You Run is a collection of each man's puffier and less autobiographical new material….

For both, this is a less personal project, and the straightforwardness such objectivity provokes makes the album very accessible. Less a series of inner explorations than of California observations, Long May You Run includes a diatribe about a hotel, "Fountainebleau,"...

(The entire section is 185 words.)

Allan Jones

["American Stars 'N' Bars"] might not entirely reflect Young's present state of mind, but the emotional polaroids, so distinctively developed here, offer a fascinating series of portraits that capture various aspects of the author's complex personality and his contradictory attitudes to women, love and its defeats and cruel disappointments.

These are the predominant concerns of the songs included here, nearly all of which are marked by a melancholic despair and resignation, made tolerable by the weary humour and stubborn resilience that Young invariably introduces.

Allan Jones, "Young Man of Melancholia," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.),...

(The entire section is 99 words.)

Fred Schruers

Neil Young's category has often been "painful-listening," but most of American Stars 'n Bars has the kind of easy-beat accessibility that could readily roll across this summer's Mellow Sounds radio. If nasty Neil sounds a trifle lobotomized compared to his dirges on Zuma and On The Beach, at least the relaxation shows up as gracefulness rather than torpor….

Following the simplistic, Buffalo-Springfieldy "Hey Babe" is this record's tour de force: "Hold Back The Tears." The song is Neil's answer to Karla Bonoff's kind of despair…. The feel is almost Norteño—mournful South Texas honkytonk—and the cut encapsulates the droning passion the whole side partakes of: "Two lyin'...

(The entire section is 144 words.)

Paul Nelson

Unless one understands the "On the Beach"/"Motion Pictures"/"Ambulance Blues" trilogy from On the Beach (and "Don't Be Denied" from Time Fades Away), one simply cannot write intelligently about Neil Young. But when one understands these songs, one begins to perceive the exciting possibility that perhaps Young is rock & roll's first (and only?) postromantic. That he knows something that we don't, but should….

For Young, being a postromantic probably means he still loves the war, but knows exactly how and where to invest his combat pay—he may lose it, but never hopelessly….

[American Stars 'n Bars] can almost be taken as a sampler, but not a summation,...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Allan Jones

Let's make one thing immediately clear, amigo: "Decade" is certainly no mercenary enterprise intended to exploit the dedication of Neil Young's audience. The apparently indulgent and extravagant design of this triple album retrospective is powerfully justified by the impressive authority and diversity of its contents, and the invaluably comprehensive account of Young's artistic development and maturity into one of rock's most individual and arresting performers that it so generously and lucidly offers.

The compilation follows a vaguely chronological course through Young's career, from the precocious adventures of his work with Buffalo Springfield—"Mr. Soul," "Broken Arrow" and, especially, the...

(The entire section is 356 words.)

Paul Williams

That heart of gold he's searching for—that heart of gold I'm searching for—that h. of g. you're looking for—it's not some other person. It's me—it's you—it's Neil Young—it's the heart of gold inside. The untapped vein. I know it's here somewhere.

For me to like a record it has to scratch the back of my brain (never mind the front, I can reach that myself)—it has to touch my heart—and it has to move my blood. That's all.

I like this record….

For me to like a record it has to speak to me, personally, from inside, in such a way as no mere hunk of plastic can, sweat of human brow is not enough, you got to speak for me, you got to speak for me...

(The entire section is 1002 words.)

Mitch Cohen

A 1988 undergraduate seminar—American Rock Romanticism 202. The midterm exam question: "Music historian Antoine Ferrand describes the music of Neil Young as 'a body of work that tells us more than we'd like to know about the feelings of despair, betrayal and helplessness that characterized a segment of America during the 1970's.' Using Decade as your primary source, discuss how Young's music over his first ten year period supports or refutes Ferrand's assertion. Be specific (quotes, titles)."

It's that kind of album. Like a Faulkner anthology. And it turns out that Neil Young is a figure to be seriously reckoned with (how else?; he is the most humorless of major rock artists). Decade...

(The entire section is 371 words.)

Steve Simels

Neil remains the only Sixties artist nobody calls burnt-out or irrelevant.

"Decade," his remarkably comprehensive new greatest-hits collection, demonstrates that what many of us mistook for profound change over time was nothing of the sort, but simply a case of our inability to see the total artist, rather than just the facets, as the years went by. There's something here for almost everybody…. If you missed it on "Zuma," "Decade" contains what is in my opinion Neil's masterpiece, Cortez the Killer, a mysterious, almost epic song that evokes visions of ancient empires and raises startling questions about male/female relationships.

All in all, this is a superb...

(The entire section is 156 words.)

Stephen Demorest

Neil Young [is] the thirty-one-year-old loner who for more than 10 years has danced unflinchingly along the edge of that greatest of all precipices, Romance. Young is a romantic whose narcissistic mortification cuts so deep that his music—as evidenced by his latest release, the triple-disc retrospective, Decade—is among the most passionate in rock….

He's a committed malcontent approaching middle age, as indeed the whole rock form is, pressured to abandon the obsessions he has struggled with for so long.

Clearly, Young is a haunted dreamer who finds the world disappointing. In the early Seventies, he was given to overtly political statements …, but his most consuming...

(The entire section is 541 words.)


Comes a Time is Neil Young's gentlest record since After the Gold Rush….

At first listening, the simplicity of the music makes Comes a Time seem wimped-out. It's not. Usually, Neil Young is most compelling for his musical excess…. Comes a Time, though, stands on its songs, not on the sound; Young has substituted a lyrical chaos for the musical one. What keeps you listening is not so much what's here, but what's left out of the half-realized sentences and shifting imagery.

Comes a Time was originally called Human Highway—a much better title for an album so concerned with passages of life and the ties that bind. Young seems to be a...

(The entire section is 318 words.)

Ken Tucker

Unlike all of Young's work since "Tonight's the Night," "Comes a Time" has a consistent theme that is stated, mused over, and partially resolved over the course of its two sides. The theme concerns his dealings with women and considers the ways relationships can be worked out, nourished, or abandoned. In song after song, Young, oftburned in the romantic fires, considers whether he ought to entrust his love to the woman in question, and every tune comes up with a different wrinkle.

The surprise of this album, given the relentless self-absorption Young has shown on recent records, is how generous he is with all his partners. (p. 136)

Certainly, while this record is as quiet as...

(The entire section is 171 words.)

Patrick Carr

Decade, while being eventful in that it did once and for all establish [Neil Young] as a Major Artist of impressive proportions, also illustrated the fact that his is a vision as consistent as it is clear; he will sing about how it feels to live in this strange and risky world, where friends still die and politics of oppression still operate and love is always hard to live with, and he will do it with none of rock's usual obfuscation or frivolity until they come to take him away.

New-album-wise (Comes a Time), this translates into serious songs about love, a theme with which he was so obviously occupied as one part of a couple at the time the album was made…. It's a smooth job, one of...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Simon Frith

[For] all Young's Californian convolutions, "Comes A Time" has the romantic innocence of those Sixties folk clubs where I used to sigh over the cool young men who, like Bob Dylan, rooted their personal anguish in the Human Condition, and suggested a life in which, instead of having to go back to school the next day, you could just travel on forever—breaking a heart here, having a heart broken there. Hitching down the highway, lonely city streets, distant mountains, rough seas—all Young's images merging in smoke.

Simon Frith, "Only a Folkie Can Break Your Heart," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), October 14, 1978, p. 19.

(The entire section is 106 words.)

Allan Jones

Young is always trying to catch up with himself, to keep pace with his own prolific, quixotic imagination. His albums are often attempts to document his changing moods and perspectives, to offer his latest idea of himself to the world. Thus the fractured chronology of his output, as he constantly reassesses his stocks of material and revises the content of scheduled releases….

["Rust Never Sleeps"] deals most blatantly with Young's obsessive restlessness, the constant need to change, to remain mobile. "It's better to burn out than it is to rust"….

The general mood is reflective; the songs, however, are not all especially memorable. "Sail Away" is only vaguely realised. Young...

(The entire section is 449 words.)

Paul Nelson

For anyone still passionately in love with rock & roll, Neil Young has made a record that defines the territory. Defines it, expands it, explodes it. Burns it to the ground.

Rust Never Sleeps tells me more about my life, my country and rock & roll than any music I've heard in years. Like a newfound friend or lover pledging honesty and eager to share whatever might be important, it's both a sampler and a synopsis—of everything: the rocks and the trees, and the shadows between the rocks and the trees. If Young's lyrics provide strength and hope, they issue warnings and offer condolences, too. "Rust never sleeps" is probably the perfect epitaph for most of us, but it can also serve as a...

(The entire section is 800 words.)

Kit Rachlis

Young's songs often come down to a single moment, a gesture that crystallizes and then breaks the tension, because they depend so much on the vagaries of mood. This undoubtedly is one of the things that Young has found so attractive about folk—the sense it often conveys of being a found music, with tone and atmosphere almost everything. A song could be whipped up on the spot, like a talking blues, and what mattered was not the proper convergence of theme and metaphor, but comic timing. If you were good, the process of making up the song—how long you paused to fit the right word into the rhyme—was as important as the completed song itself. A half-finished verse, a redundant refrain, was valued if it hit the...

(The entire section is 1024 words.)

Tom Carson

History is evidently much on Young's mind—the fact that it's the tenth anniversary of Woodstock matters a great deal to him. He first made his legend as an elegist for the Sixties, and one reason why his oeuvre during the long period of willful obscurantism that followed Harvest (1972) didn't loom as large as it should have was that he hadn't found another theme of commensurate scope. For Young, 1979 represents the end of another epoch, and this seems to have spurred him into action. What he's trying to do on Live Rust is to set himself up as a rock & roll Tiresias, sounding warnings for the future, and to somehow tie his songs of the last ten years into a vast and singular history of the...

(The entire section is 575 words.)

Noel Coppage

It's awfully hard to improve on what Steve Simels once said about Neil Young: he may be a bozo, but he's a great bozo. Young has come to mean so much more to many of us than the sum of his talents. Most of the negative stuff said about him is said affectionately…. He's not a great singer or a great guitarist, and he probably isn't even a great songwriter—although he does have a good, strong, healthy, dependable voice as a writer—but there's an extra ingredient that can transcend this technical-prowess stuff, and Young has it. Nobody can quite describe this quality—one can circle around it by saying Young has style and soul, which is true but not the whole truth—but it is easy to recognize. It...

(The entire section is 212 words.)