The release earlier this year of Neil Young’s greatest lost 1976 album Hitchhiker, plus the recent opening up of his archives online, only served to prove just how brilliant his offcuts could be. His output for the past ten years has been more problematic, though: hastily-recorded songs about cars, ecology and evil corporations having often diluted his potency.
To hear him rant more like a determined street shouter with a Noah complex (“move those animals outta here” he sings) over the driving rock of Fly By Night Deal, two tracks into his 39th studio album, you’d expect we’re in for more of the same. But The Visitor proves to be Young’s most interesting and varied work in some time, slotting somewhere in-between 2005’s acoustic Prairie Wind and the following year’s US government-thumping rocker Living With War.
As the best record of the three he’s recorded with his new and far younger band Promise of the Real, it veers between raw fury and tender melodies. From his rousing response to Trump’s catchphrase in “Already Great” to the lovely sigh of contemplation that is “Almost Always”, in which he seems to compare himself to a “crazy little bird calling out his song/Standing out on a limb almost too long”.
The closing 10-minute-long acoustic reverie “Forever” is equally beautiful, as Young sadly walks round our damaged world, treading carefully so as not to destroy any more of it. Overall, The Visitor is still mad and messy in places. But then, what’s new? Neil Young has now been doing whatever the hell he likes for almost half a century. We’re always following him down a bumpy road but that’s all part of the fun.
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Neil Young & Promise of the Real | The Visitor