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.
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 call to action. On 1974's On the Beach
, the singer summed up a song ("Ambulance Blues") and a mood with the deceptively matter-of-fact phrase, "I guess I'll call it sickness gone." On that same LP, he felt such a renewal of power that he delivered, in "Motion Pictures," what may be the most boastful and egotistic line in all of rock & roll: "I hear the mountains are doing fine." Rust Never Sleeps
makes good on every one of Young's early promises.
As you can see, we're dealing with omniscience, not irony, here. Too often, irony is the last cheap refuge for those clever assholes who confuse hooks with heart, who can't find the center of anything because their edges are so fashionably fucked up, who are just too cool to care or commiserate. Neil Young doesn't have these problems. Because he actually knows who he is and what he stands for, because he seems to have earned his insights, because his idiosyncratic and skillful music is marked by wisdom as well as a wide-ranging intelligence, Young comes right out and says somethingwithout rant, rhetoric, easy moral lessons or any of the newest production dildos. He doesn't need that crap. This man never reduces a song to the mere meaning of its words: he gives you the whole thing, emotionsand sometimes contradictions controlled but unlimited. For my money, Neil Young can outwrite, outsing, outplay, outthink, outfeel and outlast anybody in rock & roll today. Of all the major rock artists who started in the Sixties (Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Who, et al.), he's the only one who's consistently better now than he was then.
Though not really a concept album, Rust Never Sleeps is about the occupation of rock & roll, burning out, contemporary and historical American violence, and the desire or need to escape sometimes. It's an exhortation about coming back for those of us who still have that chance and an elegiac tribute to those who don't. That much is pretty clear. But unlike most of Young's records, this one's a deliberate grab bag of styles, from sensitive singer/songwriter seriousness ("Thrasher") to charming science fiction ("Ride My Llama") to country rock ("Sail Away," a gorgeous Comes a Time outtake sung with Nicolette Larso