"I knew that I wanted to make a real album that expressed how I felt," says Neil Young of his most recent album, Freedom. "I just wanted to make a Neil Young record per se. Something that was just me, where there was no persona, no image, no distinctive character like the Bluenotes guy or the guy in Everybody's Rockin'. It's the first time I've felt like doing an album like this in years."
Freedom veers between folkie ballads ("Ways of Love," "Someday" and "Too Far Gone") and screeching rockers ("Eldorado" and a wild-eyed cover of "On Broadway"). The album is bookended by contrasting versions of the bitter, ironic "Rockin' in the Free World." The opener is live and acoustic, with the audience singing the chorus, while the finale is an angry, electric rendition with an additional verse. (Young used a similar device on Rust Never Sleeps.)
"It's the longest album I've ever done," says Young. "It's a real mouthful. When I listen to it, it's almost like listening to the radio — it keeps changing and going from one thing to another."
He'd originally planned to release a purely electric rock album — "Nothing but abrasiveness from beginning to end," he says — that he'd recorded in New York. (Five songs from those sessions were released on an import EP called Eldorado.) For the album that was eventually released, he mixed in material from some subsequent acoustic sessions, looking to strike a balance. The result is Young's most personal and unguarded set of songs in many years.
"Music can be like therapy," he says. "It's like getting parts of yourself out, which I used to do all the time. But I was at a point in my life where I really closed off my emotions about a lot of things I didn't understand. I just shut down the whole program and did things that were more on the surface level, because it was safer. Now I feel time has healed whatever was bothering me so much. I feel more open, and I can write songs that are more directly involved with what I'm thinking."