Neil Young's 17th studio album, "Freedom", was released on October 2, 1989.
It's Young's comeback album after the hardest decade of his musical career.
It is not that Young did not release albums during this decade, but the musical material on those albums was not close in level to his classic albums from the 1970s.
With this album, Young makes a restart to his glorious career and returns with his first worthy work since "Rust Never Sleeps" which came out in 1979, exactly a decade before.
So, to understand what all the fuss is about and why we call it a comeback album, let's go back to 1981 for a moment.
After releasing the album "Re·ac·tor", Young leaves the record company "Reprise" with whom he had been in contract since his first album in 1968. Young signed a new recording contract with "Geffen Records" and the recording contract gives Young a million dollars for the album and complete creative freedom.
Fate wanted and Young was preoccupied during this period with caring for his son who was born with cerebral palsy, which greatly influenced his work. Young's first album at "Geffen Records" was "Trans" from 1982. It was an electronic, experimental, and completely bizarre album that was fundamentally different from what Young had released up to that time. Young will later say that he tried to communicate with his son through this experimental music and that he felt that his distorted voice (as was done on the album) would help with that. However, this album created a great deal of tension between Young and the record company. This tension reached its peak when the record company refused to release material that Young had already recorded for his next album, which was to be called "Old Ways" and which had a country-folk-rock style, similar to the "Harvest" album. The record company feared that such an album would not be well received by fans and demanded that Young will produce a rock 'n' roll album. In response, Young entered the studio and quickly wrote and record an entirely new "Rockabilly" - style album which he named "Everybody's Rockin'", released in 1983 and became Young's shortest album with just 25 minutes of music. This was Young's sweet revenge on the record company, which did not remain indifferent and filed a lawsuit against him, alleging that he deliberately released non-commercial albums. Young for his part filed a counterclaim against the record company alleging breach of contract, as he claimed he was given full creative freedom which the record company denied of him. As a result of the legal dispute, Young also began to slow down the release of his albums, until the end of the dispute in a settlement in his favor. In 1988, Young left "Geffen" and returned to "Reprise, which accompanied him throughout the years. A year later he returns to business with "Freedom" which is the subject of our review.
Similar to the album "Rust Never Sleeps", which was released exactly a decade earlier, this album also opens and ends with a different variation of the same song. This time it is Young's ultimate rock anthem and Young's first international hit in a decade - "Keep on Rocking in the Free World".
The version with which the album opens up is an acoustic version of the song which was recorded in a live performance, held in Jones Beach, New York. The album is sealed with the electric and "electrifying" version of the song.
It's a political song against the Bush administration, written by Neil Young on the band's tour bus, as he travels between shows. Some of the lyrics really mock Bush's campaign speeches. This song became an anthem in a very short time and in addition, also rode on the wave of the fall of the Berlin wall that took place several months later.
By the way, this song was the trigger for the collaboration between Young and the members of "Pearl Jam" on the "Mirror Ball" album, that Young released in 1995. "Pearl Jam" used to perform the song in their live shows. In 1993, during the MTV music awards, Young took the stage with them to perform the song. This collaboration continued in Young's live shows, when he used to bring "Pearl Jam" members on stage during the encores, to perform the song. The connection and mutual admiration between the two artists eventually led to the creation of a joint project as part of the "Mirror Ball" album, released in 1995.
Without diminishing the greatness of the immortal "Keep on Rocking in the Free World", "Freedom" is completely not an album of one song. It is an eclectic collection of songs from different periods and styles, that create an impressive mosaic of sounds and colors, which somehow, despite the differences in style, blend into each other and become one perfect work.
There's the "Don't Cry", "Eldorado" and "On Broadway" released as part of the EP only in Japan and Australia and whose common denominator is a combination of subtle acoustics, with resounding feedback and dirty and grunge chords that jump on you out of nowhere and bite you without warning. There's also "Crime in the City" and "Someday" which were recorded along with Young's previous band, the "Bluenotes" and include a combination of brass instruments with jazz and blues touches. "Crime in the City" is one of Young's favorite songs, there are live versions of this song that last 20 minutes. Complete madness. The chord passages in this masterpiece remind us of "All Along The Watchtower" and something in the tone of the singing and lyrics are both "Hurricane" by Bob Dylan. This song won an amazing and completely grunge version, as part of the masterful live album "Weld", see here:
And of course, there is also "Hangin 'on a Limb" and "The Ways of Love", Young's two wonderful duets with Linda Ronstadt that are reminiscent of the country-folk-rock we know from "Harvest". The first of the two is hardly played by Young in performances and here is a rare version of it:
It seems that after a decade of musical "drought" Young has lost a bit of confidence so he has scattered in different musical directions, as he gathers the best he has to give from the different periods in his extensive career. Despite the diversity, this is an excellent album, which undoubtedly brought him back to the center of the stage and proved his relevance, especially in the eyes of the grunge bands that are emerging in the northwestern United States. Young's dominance and influence over those bands will only intensify, especially with the release of the double album "Weld" two years later, in a way that would justify his nickname as the godfather of grunge.