Rust Never Sleeps
Neil Young’s albums in the late 1970s feel unusually focused, culminating in Rust Never Sleeps. It’s divided into an acoustic side, where Young plays the clean-cut folkie, and an electric side, where Crazy Horse tear through an aggressive set. The key track appears on both sides, an acoustic version titled ‘My, My, Hey, Hey (Out Of The Blue)’ and an electric version titled ‘Hey, Hey, My, My (Into The Black)’, affirming the power of rock music and comparing the legacies of Elvis and Johnny Rotten. There’s a clear sense throughout Rust Never Sleeps, implied in the album’s title, of Young declaring his intention to stay relevant, whether he’s criticising the complacency of his former band mates Crosby, Stills and Nash in ‘Thrasher’ (“I got bored and left them there/They were just deadweight to me”) or adopting a punk-derived thrash in ‘Welfare Mothers’ and ‘Sedan Delivery’.
The album’s centre piece is the epic ‘Powderfinger’, not only providing the name for an Australian punk band, but another portrait of a loner character, this time a young man left to defend his family farm from raiders. It’s a guitar epic, akin to ‘Cortez The Killer’ or ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’, but the remaining electric songs are leaner and punchier, with the simplistic and repetitive lyrics of ‘Welfare Mothers’ appearing to parody the punk genre. The acoustic half is often gorgeous, there’s a gentle purposefulness to these songs and performances, calm yet expressing Young’s restlessness. ‘Thrasher’ is perhaps the most solidly written, but the shorter songs are idiosyncratic, with interesting lyrics.
Rust Never Sleeps is Neil Young’s last great album of original material – he released plenty of worthwhile material in the subsequent decades, but nothing to match this.