OK, @jwb, here we go.
Song of the Seasons -- Starts out like a standard Neil acoustic song opening, but once Neil starts singing, you can tell this is of newer vintage. When his voice shows its age, it's most apparent on the acoustic stuff. He warbles a lot now. The harmonica and accordion (the latter presumably by Nils Lofgren) are nicely done. The lyrics, featuring lots of nature imagery, are nothing outstanding, but they are pleasant and not cringey, which is a win for him these days. While not up to the standards of his best acoustic stuff, this wouldn't sound out of place on Prairie Wind, which is also a win for him these days.
Heading West -- Like Don't Be Denied, this is a song about moving from Toronto to Winnipeg as a child, and is deeply autobiographical. He gets highly specific about real-life details like being separated from his brother, who stayed with their father in Toronto while Neil moved out west with his mother. The musical backing is standard Crazy Horse crunch, not all that different from what we heard a few years ago on Colorado. A good listen.
Change Ain't Never Gonna -- Led by harmonica and barrelhouse piano, this song opens with a lyrical callback (to Ten Men Workin' from This Note's for You) but quickly unravels into political ramblings. As has been typical with his political songs of the 21st century, Neil tries to cram in too many words and kills the flow of the song. Mercifully ending after less than 3 minutes and not as embarrassing as much of the political stuff on The Monsanto Years and The Visitor, it is nonetheless something I don't expect to want to revisit much.
Canerican -- Opening with muscular riffage, this one gets your attention quickly. The lyrics are again autobiographical, going into how he came to America from Canada. While he calls out some of the worst elements of American life, he does so in a pretty stately way, without coming off as "old man yells at clouds" like so much of his recent work. The chorus is a bit clunky, probably because none of them can sing much anymore, but this is very high quality by post-2012 standards.
Shape of You -- Appears to be a love song to wife Daryl Hannah. He doesn't have the vocal chops to pull off something like this anymore. The "Shape of YOOOOU" on the chorus is just not a pleasant listening experience, he sounds like a drunk guy who came out for open mic night. Feels like it was written, rehearsed and recorded in the span of less than 30 minutes. There's no way this sees the light of day if someone with less clout than Neil Young comes up with it.
They Might Be Lost -- This sounds like something out of side 1 of Hawks & Doves, of all things. The harmonica does much of the heavy lifting, which is good given the state of Neil's voice these days. It tells a story, not the kind of thing Neil does a whole lot these days, but leaves a lot of mystery in the air, as much of the second half of the song is instrumental. This song has subtlety, which has been missing from much of Neil's work this century, so that's a welcome development.
Human Race -- Cut from the same cloth as The Monsanto Years material. Musically, hard-charging and forthright, recalling some of his greatest electric work. Lyrically, a lot of ranting and raving and finger pointing about environmental issues. Some seriously apocalyptic stuff going on in here. Would be happy to see this live -- it'd hopefully be too loud for me to hear the lyrics.
Tumblin' Thru the Years -- A jaunty song with nostalgic lyrics. Reminds me a bit of One of These Days in that way.
Welcome Back -- "Gonna sing an old song to you right now/One that you heard before" backed by a slow electric grind makes you think of Cortez the Killer at first. But this actually sounds like the more ethereal tracks from Sleeps With Angels. "Welcome back, welcome back/It's not the same/The shade is just you blinking" sounds like a message about global warming, but it's delivered hauntingly, without the judgmental postures that have characterized Neil's "message" music for the last 20 years. Great stuff.
Don't Forget Love -- A piano ballad with a nice sentiment, the song relies far too much on singing to do what it needs to do, and Neil and the Horse just aren't up to that anymore.
This is a very hard record to pin down. The sound is all over the place, as are the quality of the songs. It's hard to fathom that Welcome Back and Shape of You would come from the same artist. It's just Neil being Neil, and given that he's 76 years old and we're in the middle of a pandemic, we have to be thankful for that.
Would anything make my top 101? No.
Would anything make my top 204? Welcome Back and Canerican would be considered.
Really good stuff Pip. I'm pretty sure if I could find room for Carnival in my own top 101, I could find room for Welcome Back too
On that note, I just reread your review of Carnival because I needed a good laugh after a root canal. Your "Monster Mash vibe" line cracks me up.