You can chalk this one up as yet another in a long, varied, seemingly endless line of Neil Young albums that I didn't recognize as being pretty good until now. It's the kind of album Neil doesn't actually release too often, especially in the later years of his career. Usually, he picks a style/genre for an album and sticks with it, but Chrome Dreams II is fairly diverse, probably the most so since Freedom's release nearly 20 years earlier. It gives you mellow acoustic ballads ("Beautiful Bluebird"), Everybody Knows This is Nowhere-esque classic rock jams ("Spirit Road"), Crazy Horse-style garage rock ("Dirty Old Man"), Are You Passionate?-like soul, and even an oddball piano diddley with a choir of children singing backup ("The Way").
In fact, the album's best song, "Ordinary People," an epic 18-minute rocker (possibly his longest studio track ever) with a backup horn section, was originally written This Note's For You era... shocking, because of how vastly superior this song is to anything on that album. Why Neil didn't release it then, I'll never know, but it's one of his all-time best. It cycles repeatedly through, I believe, only 2 different chord progressions and one horn line, plugging in multiple guitar and sax solos. Each verse is essentially a self-contained short story, with no more of a specific common theme than "people," and lord knows how he remembers all of the lyrics, because there are lots of them. It's hard to pick a favorite verse, but for some reason I'm really fond of the part where he sings about "Downtown people/Tryin' to make their way to work/Nose to the stone people/Some are saints, and some are jerks." Not as good but still memorable is "No Hidden Path," itself 14 minutes long. Together with "Ordinary People," the two songs make up nearly half of the album.
Save "Ordinary People," there isn't much great material on the album, but what I failed to acknowledge until now is that most of it is solid, good. There's not really a weak link on the album, even if there's only one classic track. I very much enjoyed listening through it a few times for this project, and have no idea why I was so dismissive of it back in 2007. The best I can guess is that Neil has many great albums, that it's hard to recognize the positive qualities of an album that's simply "good."