With as much lost, abandoned, and recycled material as Neil Young has, diehard fans won't even blink at the title of Chrome Dreams II, a sequel to a 1977 Young album that was never officially released. But Chrome's scrambled origin runs against the grain of recent coherent sets like Prairie Wind and Living With War. Instead, Chrome is an odds-and-ends assortment on par with American Stars 'N Bars and Hawks & Doves—and like those albums, it's alternately beautiful and banal. Straddling both extremes is "Ordinary People," Chrome's ambitious, 18-minute opus. The jam has been kicking around for decades, and all that traffic has worn off some of the tread; besides an embarrassingly dated line about "Iacocca people," the song's venomous yet tender vignettes—each verse is a short story unto itself—are diluted by watery reverb, horns, and keyboards. The entire first half of Chrome is just as patchy, but it catches fire in the third quarter: "Spirit Road" is a blast of corroded distortion and mystic Americana, while "Dirty Old Man" is as crusty as Young's 1972 hit "Old Man" is solemn. Closing the record is another endurance test—the 14-minute "No Hidden Path," a classic Young guitar meltdown—and the bizarre "The Way," whose ginger piano and children's chorus sound straight out of Annie. But halfway through, Young steps up and launches the clunky song deep into his soul—and as with Chrome Dreams II as a whole, he mostly succeeds at turning an awkward moment into a soaring one.
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