"Why do I believe in you?" Neil Young asks as his latest album winds down, which raises only more questions in the listener's mind. Who exactly is being addressed? God? A lover? An overly optimistic friend? The mystery turns "I Do" into one of Young's finest songs. When Young gets mystical over a hushed acoustic guitar, it can be a beautiful thing.
It's striking that the track appears on "Colorado" (Reprise), billed as Young's first album in seven years with his grizzled compadres in Crazy Horse. The rest of the band _ bassist Billy Talbot, drummer Ralph Molina and guitarist Nils Lofgren (a '70s Crazy Horse member who returned last year to replace the retired Frank "Poncho" Sampedro) _ are barely audible on "I Do."
There are several other pretty ballads on "Colorado," balanced by a few electric excursions, notably the 13-minute "She Showed Me Love." From the first note, there's no mistaking that craggy guitar, the rise-and-fall pulse, the hypnotic fade into nothingness that suggests the song never really ends. In many ways, the Young-Crazy songbook is carved out of a single slab of stone, the endless endless of a jam that has never been particularly "cool" or technically proficient, but emblematic of something deeper in the human spirit.
While locking in with his bandmates with a crude, off-the-cuff intensity that suggests a genre unto itself, Young spouts what's been on his mind lately: ecological disaster, lost friends and the redemption of new love. Young's political statements are more like manifestos, pamphlets that demand to be read aloud over a megaphone in the town square rather than sung, and Young's protest sometimes arrives smothered in cheese:
"I saw Mother Nature pushing Earth in a baby carriage"; "What about the animals? What about the birds and bees?" "There's a rainbow of colors in the old USA, no one's gonna whitewash those colors away."
Banal lyrics aside, Young as the cranky street-corner oracle still sounds restless and enraged on the clangorous "Shut it Down" and the rust-never-sleeps ruminations of "Help Me Lose My Mind."
"I gotta find someone to sort this out for me," he rages.
The latter song isn't quite a thing of wonder on par with "I Do," but there are worse things than Neil Young speaking his mind over Crazy Horse's primal thud and thunder.