As one of rock and roll's elder statesmen, Neil Young has earned a lot of labels, but hack has never been one of them. Sure, he's eccentric and even a little possessed, but never has he been accused of lacking talent -- at least by those who know what they're talking about. Young has taken his share of missteps, but on this acoustic outing, he's on solid, comfortably familiar ground. Released simultaneously with an identically titled live performance DVD/video, Silver & Gold is another poignant display of Young's softer, introspective side.
Young has mined the songs here from the same lode that brought forth After the Gold Rush, Harvest, and Harvest Moon -- some of his best and most enduring work. Whether these 10 songs will withstand the aging process as well remains to be seen, of course, but some already sound timeless. The work contained here, and in the film, is full of the reflective musings of a man willingly facing the twilight of his life, but with a gentle longing to revisit his past. If any tune represents that sense of nostalgia, it's "Buffalo Springfield Again," on which Young pines for another chance to "show the world what we got." It was, in fact, the experience of working with Stephen Stills to compile the Buffalo Springfield box that set in motion what became the CSNY album Looking Forward and reunion tour. The title track is another sweet heart-tugger, one that encapsulates the album's main themes: the past and how love endures. "If life is a photograph, fading in the mirror," Young sings in "Distant Camera," "all I want is a song of love, a song of love to sing for you."
When he performs these songs solo, as he does in the film, they take on an even more wistful feel. But even with the tasteful embellishments on the disc, it's Young's wispy vocals that slowly and lovingly caress each tune. It's too bad he didn't save "Slowpoke" and "Out of Control," two songs he sacrificed to the CSNY effort, for himself. They would have elevated this album to an even higher level. We've learned to forgive Young his foibles, his musical weak spots, and his tendency to cop musically from his own earlier work; every creative genius has ebbs and flows -- not every Picasso is equally brilliant. Part of the reason so many fans still love Young is because he's not afraid to be less than perfect; somehow, that makes his work even more engrossing.