Disclaimer: Those looking for a brief description of the album will find what their looking for in the "Review Body" section. The section titled "Track Reviews" is meant only for those who want to read detailed descriptions of the songs, and they do not constitute the essence of this review. Lastly and most importantly, this review is not written in the point of view of a Neil Young fan.)
Overall Score: 3.5/5
Best song: “The Great Divide”
Worst song: “Without Rings”
What the!!!! This is an album full of Neil Young singing to an acoustic guitar! I guess it's been 10 long years since the grunge movement took a hold of the '90s and Neil Young's career, but now that it became the decade with no pronounceable name, I guess it was time for him to go back doing the quieter, introspective stuff. I stand by my earlier statement that I'd rather listen to his maddening grungy albums than boring folky music, but as someone who had spent the previous month reviewing a bunch of those grunge albums in a row, it's admittedly quite a relief to listen to him just sitting back and delivering some nice, quiet tunes for a change.
But this ain't no Harvest Moon. That album featured some of Young's finest melodies, and it had the ability to haunt my dreams. Silver & Gold is little more than a collection of passive and unoriginal folk and country tunes that he could have written and performed in his sleep. And he probably did, by the sound of it. It all seems very lazy.
The fans sure liked this, though, and that's probably because Neil Young has the ability to make himself sound extremely important. And I'll have to admit, I get caught up in a little bit of that grandeur at times. He also had the ability to bore the living crap out of me, and he does that a lot here, too. The one song on here that everybody should listen to is “The Great Divide,” which is one of those Neil Young songs that just seems to *get me* right at the center of my soul. Even though Neil Young had a lot of great songs in his career, I can't say that there were too many of them that quite affected me like that. It has such a nice melody with a sweet vocal delivery, and a solid, shuffly rhythm that's quite easy to get caught up in.
I also like that nostalgia-ridden “Buffalo Springfield Again,” which Neil seems to hint to his old bandmates that he wouldn't mind having a reunion! It has a nice melody, too, and if the reunion had ever happened, it would have been a perfect song for them to perform in concert. “Good to See You” is an overwhelmingly sweet and pleasant ditty and it makes a nice album opener. The title track is also a good 'un with a nice melody, and it constitutes another special treat for any fan of Young's folkish works. “Razor Love” has been one of the more widely celebrated songs of the album, and that's for good reason: It's quite a mesmerizing little tune! But the down-side of it is that it goes past six minutes, and there wasn't great reason for it. Other than, perhaps, to fill up space since this album is a startlingly short 39 minutes.
For every song that's sweet and captivating, there's at least one that's absolutely boring. “Daddy Went Walkin'” not only makes a boring experience, but the melody was ripped off of some old folk song from the early 20th Century. (I'm not apt enough in such music to be able to point out where this melody comes from, but you'll know what I mean if you ever hear it. It's so common!) “Red Sun” had an interesting idea to usher in a subtle bagpipe sound, but that melody is so dull and clunky that it's rather difficult to listen to. The album closer, “Without Rings,” couldn't have ended things on a drabber note. It's just a plodding acoustic guitar song without an interesting melody or captivating instrumentation. Blahhhhhhhh... I mean, the least he could have done there was to have Mr. Slide Guitar perform some noodles in the background, or do a depressed harmonica solo. Why make it so plain?
But whatever. This is a good album. Neil Young has always been known for releasing good albums, and his longtime fans will surely find enough about Silver & Gold to treasure listening to it from time to time. He never released anything close to resembling a perfect album, anyway! The Neil Young of the '00s was not only as scraggly and scruffy as he'd ever been, but he also finally became a grand old coot. That might have given him permission to be lazier and less original than he used to be, but I sort of like him taking on that image. Somehow, I don't think anybody made a better old coot than Neil! Except maybe Randy Newman, but in a different way.
This might not be a terribly exciting album, but it's a nice album. I don't think it's quite as hopelessly dull as many critics point out, but I also think Neil could have worked a little harder developing these songs a little better. I mean, he wrote Harvest Moon, after all, so I know he had it in him! But anyway, Silver & Gold remains a nice experience to sit back and soak up one sunny afternoon with headphones. It might put you to sleep, but it'll give you pleasant dreams.
Good to See You A-
Oh, the pleasantries! Neil Young hadn't been so goshdurned pleasant since Harvest Moon! It doesn't pack any punch at all like any of his '90s albums, and I guess it wasn't supposed to. This is just a laid-back country ballad with a little bit of slide guitar, and a cute, thoughtful melody. Young's vocal performance is sweet. It's a bit boring and 100 percent unoriginal, I suppose, but I like it. Makes a good song to sit back and soak up.
Silver & Gold A-
Nice melody! Again, you're going to have to really be into his folk tendencies to actually like this, but I'd imagine the seasoned Neil Young fan was ready to hear him go back to these gold old days. It's just Neil singing with his well-textured acoustic guitar, and he brings in a harmonica solo in the middle. His vocal performance is pretty good, and the lyrics aren't bad either. Cool!
Daddy Went Walkin' B
Alright, he's not even trying. We sort of suspected as much with the previous two tracks, but this is basically a rewrite of every '20s folk song in existence. There are a few distinct Neil-Young-ish sections in here, but they tend to be a little bit long-drawn-out and dull. The instrumentation, however, is nice, but I wish it had more of an atmosphere. ...I mean, I know he was going for the whole fresh-air, country-fried thing, but there's nothing wrong with a little bit of instrumental depth!
Buffalo Springfield Again A
Ugh! I didn't like that old band very much, but this little retrospective is quite a charming song. The drum beat keeps a nice, crunchy, shuffly texture, and Neil's soaring vocal melody has quite a lot of hooks in it. I even approve of those minimal, gentle slide guitars bending throughout as well as that sloppy-but-appealing harmonica solo in the middle. All in all, this is quite captivating! It's got a cool nostalgic feeling, too, which is obviously what Neil was feeling when he wrote this.
The Great Divide A
Oh, what a sweet little song. If only he had a little bit of Linda Ronstadt on back-up vocals, it might have been a Harvest Moon sort of song, although those (woodwind?) instruments noodling around in the background give it a priceless depth that I really adore about it. I also really like this melody, and that gentle way that Neil delivers it. The drum beat continues to be fairly loud and solid, which of course helps me like the song. (Oh, the power of the drums!)
Horseshoe Man B
Good, but this one seems to be missing the boat somehow. Not too terribly different than the previous track; it's a gentle ballad with a solid drum beat. But the melody doesn't seem to be too memorable, and the harmonies don't seem to penetrate my soul. I like the instrumentation, though, particularly that twinkly piano that comes in at times. It's a nice listen, but it's not one of the main highlights.
Red Sun C+
This one has a little bit of a Scottish bagpipe thing going with it or something. I've also got to complain that this sounds like Neil turned on some movie about Scotland and wrote a song based on the melody of one of those cliched songs they keep on playing. I've also got to complain that this song is so freaking clunky. Neil can't seem to sing three words without pausing. ........Aaaaarhhhggghhh! Stoppit!!!
Distant Camera B
This is better than the last one, for sure, and I'm able to listen to it without going bonkers. But it's also a fairly undistinguished song with a merely so-so melody and nothing particularly different about the instrumentation. Again, if you love Neil Young and his laid-back folky numbers, then you're going to love this. If you tend to get bored with those songs, then you'll undoubtedly find this to be kinda boring.
Razor Love A-
Mmmmm... Razors... Apparently Young had written this quite a long time ago. It's one of the more celebrated songs of the album, and it's about as pleasant and likable as anything else on here I suppose. Although at more than six-minutes long, it starts to try my attention span although it's mesmerizing enough for me to never grow completely bored with it. The melody is good, but it's not great. The instrumentation is gentle and dreamy with a shuffly rhythm, but not captivating enough to make it great. Therefore, this is a good song, but it's not a great one!
Without Rings C+
Argh. Could he have possibly ended this album on a more drab note? It's just Neil singing with his acoustic guitar. There isn't even a harmonica solo in the middle to keep things fun. I will say that I like hearing him sing in that lower tone that's pretty rare for him. (Because usually he sounds like Mickey Mouse.) But............. geez, this song is so slow moving and dull. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And now, the album's over. Boo yah!
Neil Young's Silver & Gold marks a return to the folkish, countryish songs that he hadn't done since the '70s, and it ain't bad. Some parts are quite beautiful. But other parts are more boring than thermodynamics lectures.
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Neil Young (1969) | Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969) | After the Gold Rush (1970) | Harvest (1972) | On the Beach (1974) | Tonight's the Night (1975) | Zuma (1975) | American Stars 'N Bars (1977) | Comes a Time (1978) | Rust Never Sleeps (1979) | Live Rust (1979) | Hawks & Doves (1980) | Re-ac-tor (1981) | Trans (1982) | Everybody's Rockin' (1983) | Old Ways (1985) | Landing On Water (1986) | Life (1987) | This Note's For You (1988) | Freedom (1989) | Ragged Glory (1990) | Weld (1991) | Arc (1991) | Harvest Moon (1992) | Unplugged (1993) | Sleeps With Angels (1994) | Mirror Ball (1995) | Dead Man (1996) | Broken Arrow (1996) | Year of the Horse (1997) | Silver & Gold (2000) | Rock Road Vol. 1 (2000) | Are You Passionate? (2002) | Greendale (2003) | Prairie Wind (2005) | Living With War (2006) | Chrome Dreams II (2007) | Fork in the Road (2009) | Le Noise (2010)