My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) / Thrasher / Ride My Llama / Pocahontas / Sail Away / Powderfinger / Welfare Mothers / Sedan Delivery / Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
by Richard Dubourg
Just recently, some people have started to say that they never really could understand the connection made between grunge and Neil Young, and between grunge and Rust Never Sleeps in particular. Don't listen to them, as this is seminal, and all the more astounding for having been recorded over fifteen years ago (with many of the songs older than that).
The all-pervading theme of the album is one of change, and of what becomes of those who try to resist it. Hence, the boy who stands to fight the anonymous invaders, ignoring his father's advice ("Red means run, son, numbers add up to nothing") gets a bullet in the head for his pains ("Powderfinger"); the alien who says, "It's old but is good" is nothing but a "primitive" ("Ride My Llama"); even the now infamous line, "It's better to burn out than to fade away" is more an exhortation to accept, and if possible to adapt to, change rather than resist it and become obsolete ("Out of the Blue [Into the Black]").
Rust Never Sleeps is an album borne of the decade that saw Vietnam, environmental disasters, and other events of global change, and ends up being one of the most direct and coherent statements about the punk movement ever put to vinyl. "This is the story of Johnny Rotten," Young sings, and you know he sees Rotten as the ambassador to an irresistible driving force in popular music at the time. This only serves to reinforce the grunge connection, with that later (and almost exclusively North American) phenomenon being a fruitful (if somewhat overdue) offspring of the union between punk and rock music. You can be sure that Young wasn't intending to "fade away" from "I'll know the time has come to give what's mine" ("Thrasher").
But don't think this is just a grunge album, as it has all of the Young trademarks: the distorted guitar, the country influence, and good ol' rock'n'roll. But all of it, even the acoustic first side, has a hard edge. There are not many albums which sound as fresh and relevant today as when they were first recorded. Rust Never Sleeps is one, and deserves to be in everyone's collection.