Album #18: Neil Young, ‘Decade’

I’m guessing that the idea behind the sprawling Neil Young anthology “Decade” was that his career was on an irreversible downward arc. Why not cash in while he still had some record-store cachet?

As it turned out, Young had a long way to go. “Rust Never Sleeps,” one of his best albums, was released in 1979, just two years after “Decade.” “Freedom,” another classic, came 10 years after that (“Decade II”?), and he remains active and relevant. Still, “Decade” is a great introduction to one of the most remarkable musicians of our time, taking us from his early years with the Buffalo Springfield to his long solo career, with and without Crazy Horse, with pit stops along the way for Crosby, Still, Nash and Young and, for a nanosecond, the Stills-Young Band.

Young has two modes: acoustic singer-songwriter and all-out rocker. I prefer the loud stuff with Crazy Horse, featuring Young’s cosmic guitar solos (definitely the triumph of feel over technique), but I’ll listen to either anytime. “Decade” covers both phases of his work; even though it comprises 35 songs over just 10 years, he was so productive during that period that it still manages to leave out some my favorites, like “Out on the Weekend,” from 1972’s “Harvest.” On the other hand, “Decade” includes a “Harvest” clunker, “A Man Needs a Maid,” anti-feminist claptrap with strings that may be the only song you’ll want to skip over. (Trust me on this, kids: Evolving sensibilities aside, he was criticized for it 48 years ago.)

On the acoustic side, there are so many great songs here that it’s hard to narrow them down. Some have suffered from too much radio time over the years, like “Sugar Mountain,” “Heart of Gold,” and “After the Gold Rush.” Try listening to them with fresh ears, because they are truly for the ages.

Of the rockers, again, the list is endless. My favorite is “Like a Hurricane,” among the loudest, longest, most guitar-drenched songs Young ever recorded. But it’s hard to go wrong with anything here other than “Maid.” It’s two and a half hours of love songs, drug songs, lost-youth songs, and songs that appear to be about everything and nothing.

Bob Dylan once sang: “I’m listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound/
Someone’s always yellin’ ‘Turn it down.'”

Nope. Turn that sucker up to 11.

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