I have not yet heard the album but reckon I will eventually. But I always take what this critic has to say seriously, as I think he's the finest critic to come along this century. (Well, of which I know, at least.)
A small excerpt:
If I called Barn the best Neil Young album in more than a decade, would it register as faint praise? We are, after all, talking about a bar set by the inauspicious likes of A Letter Home, Peace Trail, The Visitor, Colorado, and several (!) other albums that came and went in the 2010s without much fanfare. Compared with the recent competition, Barn practically feels like a return to the gold standard of Tonight’s The Night, On The Beach, and Rust Never Sleeps — but only when compared with the recent competition. It’s just good enough to make you wonder: Will he ever get around to making another truly great Neil Young album?
Not sure if this is the right place for this or not, but oh well:
AD: I think maybe you’re the only person who can answer this next question. You’ve worked a lot with Neil Young, and you’ve worked a lot with Bruce Springsteen. Looking at it from the outside, it seems like they might be completely opposite as bandleaders. Is that correct?
Nils Lofgren: You know, actually, that’s incorrect. They are much more similar than you would imagine. Of course, they have a different sound. They’re both two of the greatest songwriters we’ve ever had. I’d say there’s similarity in the way that they are both very hands-off. They like to work with people that they don’t have direct a lot. Neither one gets in your face says, “Play this, play that.” On the contrary, a lot of times they won’t even make recommendations. Just play what you feel, right? So that’s a very enormous freedom. Personally, I like to work with musicians like that too. If I’m telling the drummer what to play, then we’re in trouble.
They’re both very similar in the sense they like to be surprised by good ideas. Yeah, they come in with a song, but not usually with a prerequisite everything that everyone’s playing. And I love that about it. They like immediacy. They don’t like to over rehearse. If there’s a difference, Neil may go a little further out on an extreme ledge like that, but it’s very, very subtle. You know, with Bruce every night we play a song from a sign in the crowd that we’ve never played before. We’re working on an arrangement and the key on the fly. Neil takes it a bit further. Like Tonight’s the Night — “Hey, I don’t even want you knowing the song too well.” As a musician who revels in that kind of freedom, that’s perfect.
Or maybe not entirely run out of ammo, just...you know, low. Or to switch metaphors, maybe instead of hitting .512 (as Todd Helton did for a month once), he's hitting .250 these days—still good enough to place in the top 15% or so of major league players, but a massive drop from the earlier peak.
One of my favorite reviews ever was about Prince, about how he was so ungodly talented that he could write, perform, record and mix an entire song in a matter of hours, working so quickly and so well that he never stopped to think "but should I? Is this good enough? Is this worthy of my superhuman talents? Should I maybe sit on this for a day or two, reconsider the lyrics, maybe give them a second pass to see if they can be improved a bit?"
That's what we've always loved about Neil, how he's not Bruce, how he just lets it all fly. And when he was on the top of his game, the results could be beyond brilliant. And sometimes even then, the results...weren't. But it was a rollercoaster and worth it.
But, yeah, maybe now he should take a page out of Dylan's book and be considerably more judicious in his editing and song selection? Bob and Bruce have shown that it's possible to make albums that are fully mature and yet as good as their best work. It'd be amazing if Neil were able to do that too. And there doesn't seem to be any reason he can't, other than, you know, his own intrinsic Neilness. Which, sadly, seems like it might be reason enough.
I bought every Neil Young album ever until...I don't remember which one. It was sometime in the last 10 years. Neil needs to stop and consider before releasing whatever he happens to record. He could do that back in the day, because he was at the top of his game. I'm speaking as someone who really likes the Geffen years. Is he capable of recording another masterpiece? Why not? It's sure possible. People wondered the same thing about Dylan, Bowie, and Bruce. On the other hand, maybe he's run out of ammo. No disgrace in that.
Hmm. I've got Barn planned for my campfire tonight when the rain lets up, so I'll read the review after I've heard it so as not to be influenced.