Neil Young Before and After review

Before and After review | Good background music from Neil Young, no hits

An agreeable listen, but it lacks character and flavour.

Neil Young has just released his latest album, and while it is the ideal soul-warming record to listen to in the festive season, it won’t be reaching for any Christmas charts. Here’s our Before and After review.

The 78-year-old Canadian-American singer has been releasing music since his self-titled debut album in 1968, and along the way, he has picked up several Grammy awards, making him one of the most celebrated artists in music history. Continuing to put out regular albums, with his preceding record being a delayed release of tracks recorded in the 1970s, Young remains an influential and popular player in the indie-folk music sphere.

Now, with his 45th studio album, Before and After, Young continues to make music demonstrating exceptional songwriting and melodies that create a sense of nostalgia and reliability without being jarring. While Young’s signature warbling tenor voice might not be to everyone’s taste, his use of this album’s harmonica and bass guitar ensures that his voice is not always the overwhelming instrument.

That said, it is near impossible to ignore the truth and meaning behind Young’s poignant lyrics, which illustrate the singer reflecting on age, life and, in the album’s strongest track, ‘Mother Earth’, the effect of humans on the planet, with the “How long can you give and not receive, and feed this world ruled by greed?”

While Young doesn’t stray far from his comfort zone of slow ballads and indie-folk tunes, he does appear to experiment subtly with styles. For example, the 1980s-esque synth organ used in ‘Mother Earth’ makes for an engaging sound, and the layered instruments in ‘Mr. Soul’ create an atmospheric track brimming with anticipation.

The compelling opening line of this track, “Oh hello Mr. Soul, I’ve dropped by to pick up a reason”, continues the feel of this curiosity and mystery, making this atypical track for Young a highlight of the album.

These pregnant openings are something Young uses throughout the album but are sometimes demonstrated with the gentler piano. Although the middle four tracks on the album can seem repetitive, each starting with a piano ballad intro, these very features help make this the heartwarming and moving record it is. 

There’s no denying the romantic tone that underlies the majority of the tracks on this album, and ‘When I Hold You In My Arms’ beautifully captures the gentleness and simplicity of the love Young is describing. His high voice, combined with the touching lyrics, “When I hold you in my arms, I forget what’s up there”, and a delicate and traditional piano backing track, make this an utterly pleasant piece to enjoy.

The message of the song, depicting the isolated bliss which follows falling in love, suitably demonstrates Young’s effortless songwriting ability, which largely carries this album’s success. 

Overall, Before and After offers a detailed and intriguing trip into Young’s deep thoughts and emotions, but sadly, it seems repetitive at times. While his use of multiple layered instruments enhances his soft and timeless voice, it’s hard to get excited about an album like this. Before and After is a largely inoffensive album but lacks character and flavour.

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