Neil Young is quite possibly the world's most manic rock star. One day he's the patchwork-and-patchouli sage dispensing altruistic truisms over back-porch jam sessions, and the next he's the flannel-shirted godfather of punk who wails against whatever is in sight over roiling feedback and reverb. Prairie Wind
, the last installment in a trilogy that includes the classics Harvest
and Harvest Moon
, will primarily appeal to fans of the kinder, gentler Young. Nonetheless the album does plow deeper into ideological firmament than those earlier offerings, and its sad, sensitive ballads and themes of resignation and uncertainty veer toward the darker sentiments of his mid-Seventies classics Tonight's the Night
and On the Beach
. On the semiautobiographical "Far from Home," Young paints idyllic, evocative images of a pastoral heartland that's rapidly fading into memory. "No Wonder" expands that perspective, using the analogy of 9/11 to suggest that America's innocence has been corrupted by greed and deceit. "Somewhere a senator/Sits in a leather chair/Behind a big wooden desk.... He took his money/Just like all the rest," Young coos. The singer's spiritual sensibilities also guide his perspective; the album closer, a somber piano ballad called "When God Made Me," might be most the heartfelt paean of purpose since John Lennon's "Imagine." In it, he implies that his philosophical musings may in fact be part of some divine plan: "Did he give me the gift of voice/So he could silence me? Did he give me the gift of vision/Not knowin' what I might see?"