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When Neil Young entered Shangri La Studio with the band Promise Of The Real a few months ago, there were a lot of images and feelings careening around his soul. The country was heading in a direction Young had never seen, even though up until then he thought he'd seen it all. But something different was happening, and it had gotten inside his music. "I'm a Canadian by the way and I love the USA," he sings on the first song "Already Great." The ethos of The Visitor can be summed up in the refrain of "Already Great" where Young insists, "Already great, you're already great. You're the promise land, the helping hand. No wall. No hate. No fascist USA. WHOSE STREET? OUR STREET." From those words, Neil Young was ready to take a musical journey on his new album The Visitor like he had never taken before. It was one where he'd even surprise himself, always the mark of a creative leap. By the end of the recording sessions, he knew he'd made his most diverse album going all the way back to Harvest in 1972, when America was also in the throes of becoming unhinged. Neil Young didn't blink then, and he is not blinking now.
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Yes. The Visitor is weird. And some of it is political in a didactic and direct manner that will alienate some his listeners. And in other places it is full of a kind of anachronistic yet ultimately charming and sincere hippie idealism that only Neil Young could begin to pull off .Some of the songs are indeed "filler" but in the best way, as arrows pointing to the bigger deeper songs that they sit next to. But the writing throughout is superb. The brilliantly simple riffs of the opener "Already Great" merge effortlessly into the gorgeous chords and harmonies of the chorus to great effect. "Carnival" is a magnificent dreamscape of existence as a carnival midway, full of surrealist imagery and intricate rhymes that hearkens back to his best work in Buffalo Springfield. The ten-minute long acoustic epic "Forever" is lyrically and melodically among the best songs he has ever written and shows the tremendous interplay with Promise of the Real as a band, especially in terms of the background vocal harmonies which are exquisite. In fact, all of the quieter numbers on this cd are both wonderfully written and produced in ways that continue to reveal acoustic surprises that are frankly, delightful. The vocal harmonies throughout this record are never less than remarkable and one of the real pleasures of The Visitor.
Even the orchestrated anthem "Children of Destiny" works, despite its almost polemical direct call to action lyrics, because of the sincerity of the performance, which perfectly sets up the more meditative and obscure "Forever."
One wonders whether or not Neil Young is somehow mystically plugged into the zeitgeist, in that he released this record that has a song with the lyrics "Lock-em up" on the day Mike Flynn was finally indicted. But then again this is an album about one's magical loving connection to both the Earth and humanity, a hymn to Gaia that is never pretentious and always sincere. Like Bowie's Blackstar, it is an album that both ties together and illuminates the work of an artist with a powerful back catalog, while simultaneously breaking new ground with younger musicians.
This is not just another Neil Young "comeback." Neither is it a minor idiosyncratic sidestep. This is a major work. If you are a fan of Neil Young give it a listen and time to grow on you. You will not be disappointed.
Had to ask for a replacement, mine had an odd warp where the cartridge appeared to go over 2 speed bumps really close together. But, it's almost common now to request replacement on new vinyl. Amazon makes it very easy - won't buy anywhere else right now.