Picks and Pans Review: Freedom

updated 11/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Neil Young

The similarities are almost uncanny. Young begins and ends both this album and his 1979 juggernaut Rust Never Sleeps with acoustic-electric versions of the same song. The seamless kind of song-writing that is wedged in between on both efforts is also impressive. The most salient fact about Freedom is that Young has given everyone reason to believe he still is (not was) one of our strongest contemporary musicians.

Young doesn't usually do concept albums, but in this case he comes close, writing and singing about the cost of political and personal liberty. For him, love can be a redemptive force even when it's barely thriving (as in "Hangin' on a Limb") or hopelessly fatalistic ("Don't Cry"). When a young man-child finally learns how to cope with growing up in a divided family and then sets out on his own, he somehow is able to feel that he was still loved: "But now I'm doin' my own thing/ Sometimes I'm good, then I'm bad/ Although my home has been broken/ It's the best home I ever had."

Musically, the record feels comfortable even when its often pessimistic messages are not. It blends some of the finer down-home touches from Young's 1978 LP, Comes a Time, with the surreal ambience of the acoustic parts of Rust. Linda Ronstadt sits in on "Hangin' on a Limb" and the marching ballad "The Ways of Love," showing again why she is a peerless harmony vocalist.

Young's cover of the standby "On Broadway" is a mixed bag. Drummer Chad Cromwell and bassist Rick Rosas help Young sound as if he's leading a garage band down in a subway somewhere, below the venerable playhouses along the Great White Way. It's fun at times, but Young adds an obvious new verse about crack that tends to turn the song into a downer. Another reservation: The faux Spanish feel of "Eldorado" is languid and melodramatic.

Nonetheless, there is much more to celebrate about this album than there is to criticize. Young is something of a minor-chord miracle worker who has appeared to be running short of miracles in recent years. Living with his sometimes exasperating experiments, however, is part of appreciating Young, and in this case he has got his magic working. (Reprise)

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