From Time's interview with Neil Young:
I'm as predictable as a Holiday Inn when you really look at me. I keep doing the same thing all over again. I just make records, and the records are usually some sort of turnabout from the last record. It took me a long time to write this record [Prairie Wind]. I didn't write anything for two years after Greendale. . .'cause Greendale was a completely draining experience and a huge project that I think was one of the best things I have been able to do in my life, and a lot of people were lost by it, but that doesn't mean anything. A lot of people in the middle of the road don't pick up on what I'm doing when I'm not in the middle of the road, and it's an accident and a pleasant one when I do end up [there] and traffic is with me.
Undoubtedy it is Young's "acoustic records" that are most likely to take him to the "middle of the road". For those whose acquaintance with Young's music began with "Heart of Gold" or Harvest, they're more pleasant to listen to than the raucous rock'n roll records or the bitterly introspective albums like Tonight's the Night or On the Beach. Praire Wind will likely appeal to such listeners.
The first time I listened to this new album, I came to a conclusion similar to John Kenyon's:
. . .The disc has a few memorable moments, but like much of his work in the past decade, it is disappointing, containing neither the strong melodies nor homespun wordplay that elevates the best of his work. Instead we get odd namechecks of Chris Rock, the umpteenth song about Elvis being "the King" and a tune about Young's guitar.
I've listened to it about five times now, and it gets better each time I hear it. It's true that the disc doesn't have many "strong melodies" (except for, perhaps "The King," which is indeed more or less a throwaway, but I like it nonetheless), and the lyrics are more plainspoken in their, in this case, directly homespun way. Musically speaking, one could swear that some of the songs are near-cousins to those on Comes a Time or Harvest Moon. But the theme of the record (or one of the themes) is the passage of time, and songs that recall old Neil Young songs is arguably an appropriate way to emphasize lyrics that often evoke Young's childhood and his childhood home in Winnipeg, Canada.
This memorial quality is, of course, also appropriate for a group of songs that were written while Young was being diagnosed and treated for a brain aneurysm. But their pensive tone (leavened with humor, it must be said) never becomes merely sentimental, and the country-ish feel of many of them lends them a certain dignity. It's the kind of record that's best appreciated as a sequential whole rather than as a collection of discrete songs--in my opinion, something one finds in all too few pop music albums these days.
At any rate, the release of Praire Wind gives me an opportunity to voice how much Neil Young's music has meant to me for a very long time, and, because of that, how much leeway I'm willing to give him when he produces an album that's maybe only "middling" rather than great. If you want great, go listen again to Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.