By Stephen Lee, October 12 2017 —
Neil Young has never been one to chase a synthetic sound. Hitchhiker resonates with raw, unnerving and subtle energy beneath a simple sound that perfectly encapsulates Young’s songwriting.
Young’s lyrics don’t need to be dissected for meaning. There’s something powerful about the way he tells a story — it’s honest and doesn’t beat around the bush. Whether it’s the violence-drenched “Powderfinger” or the political critique of “Campaigner,” Young’s message comes across clearly.
Despite most of the album being released previously, these archival recordings have the same haunting tone that makes his music so intriguing. The simplicity of his lyrics paired with the lonesome acoustic guitar make this release an essential listen. Young’s signature melancholic voice can be heard in every song. The tumultuous tremor of bass notes beneath the twinkle of his upper strings creates a harrowing and beautiful sound.
Young doesn’t spare anyone with Hitchhiker. His lyrics are full of poignant criticism, whether it’s against colonialism in “Pocahontas” or of his own state of mind. By far the most gripping song is the title track “Hitchhiker.” Young’s depiction of the allure of fame mirrors older compositions such as “Needle and the Damage Done.” He highlights the underbelly of stardom — a pain that can only be soothed by drugs. From hash to amphetamines and cocaine to paranoia, the song is a testament to the depravity that often exists beneath genius.
Hitchhiker is a raw album. It has jagged, unpolished edges that contribute to Young’s signature sound. It’s some of his most emotional work, charged by the loneliness of fame. From start to finish, it never loses its mordant, melancholic tone. Young’s work is unsettling at times but equally alluring. It’s folk music that tells a story of humanity at its lowest point. Whether it’s the simple guitar or the stirring lyrics, this is quintessential Young at his most brutally honest.