Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in July 2015. It’s being republished today as Neil Young’s new album, Peace Trail, prepares to drop later this week.
You may have caught our Neil Young’s Top 10 Songs earlier this week. As exciting and challenging as it was to pluck 10 of his finest tunes from such a daunting discography, it was only the tip of the iceberg. So we decided to delve a little deeper into his work for a few more superlatives. Disagree with our choices? Of course you do. That’s part of the fun of these kinds of features. Let us know your own picks (and possibly some additional categories) in the comments section below. This is the very best of Neil Young.
We’ve talked exhaustively on this very site about the different faces of Neil Young — the old folkie, the grungy nihilist, the weirdo experimentalist, etc. After the Gold Rush works so well because it combines so many of these sides of him. On one hand, the record’s fairly straightforward, from the plaintive yearning on “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” to the critique of Mason-Dixon racism on “Southern Man”. On the flip side, Young gets abstract in his environmentalism on the title track, whose surreal tone can be attributed to the un-filmed Dean Stockwell script on which several of the songs are based. Hell, we even get a taste of his work with CSN&Y and Buffalo Springfield when Stephen Stills pops up on opener “Tell Me Why”.
All of this makes After the Gold Rush sound more all over the place than it actually is. Part of its charm also lies in its sonic cohesion, courtesy of a crack backing band consisting of Crazy Horse, Jack Nitzche, and an 18-year-old Nils Lofgren, who learned to play piano just for this album. Together, they manage to be introspective without being boring and — an especially impressive feat for Crazy Horse — rock without going on too long. With that in mind, it’s almost a blessing that the erratic script for After the Gold Rush got lost. If Young had pulled from its entirety for this quasi-soundtrack, the whole thing may have gone off the rails. Instead, we get just the right amount of everything. –Dan Caffrey