Places are cool for a while, and then they aren’t,” Neil Young told a recent interviewer, explaining his retreat to the remote barn for which his latest album with Crazy Horse is named. “You gotta remember, nothing’s cool forever.”

Seasoned in the spotlight at 76 years old, Young senses his distance from the countercultural coolness that brought him to Woodstock and inspired an era of alt-rockers. Though his progressive attitude endures, he sounds humbled on Barn, more detached and reflective than on 2019’s Colorado, also recorded with Crazy Horse at the Rocky Mountain Studio in the Clouds. The result is an album anchored in Young’s tireless rock ethos and adapted for a pandemic-stricken world. Faced with unstable times, Young and Crazy Horse find power not in resistance, but in resilience.

Barn comforts with familiarity as it looks toward an uncertain future. Young’s distinct harmonica leads off on “Song of the Seasons,” later joined in surprise harmony with tender accordion from Nils Lofgren. The “falling leaves” of the opening verse are a nod to aging and death, but Young, confident that “nature makes no mistake,” welcomes the metaphoric changing of seasons. “We could wind up anywhere,” he bleats in the chorus, comfortable in the decline of his already fragile voice. There is even romance in the specter of the coronavirus, with “masked people walking everywhere” interpreted as “humanity in my sights.”

It’s an argument for accepting change, and it's most powerful at its most autobiographical. On “Heading West,” Young recalls the separation of his parents as a teenager and his journey west to rediscover “the good old days,” which are always gone for good, alongside his mother. Yet the futile search has its silver linings. Singing over a wall of gritty guitar distortion that invokes disruption and uncertainty, Young casts the experience as beautiful and formative. When he repeats, “Mommy got me my first guitar,” in the final two verses, he reminds us that the story turns out all right. On “Canerican,” the songwriter documents his transition in lifestyle and nationality — born in Ontario, he finally became a U.S. citizen in 2020 — and locates strength in the destabilization of his identity. So proudly does he assert, “I am Canerican, Canerican is what I am,” that when Young sees “the changes comin’ to this country,” you can tell he welcomes their challenge.

The converse of this adaptability is stubborn futility. “Change Ain’t Never Gonna,” Barn’s most uncomfortable moment, depicts the displacement of “10 men workin’” to “save the planet from a fuel-burnin' mob.” The workers, Young cries, “turned on everyone,” singing “change ain’t never gonna come” in a pathetic reversal of Sam Cooke’s prescience. Here, Young approaches neoliberal insensitivity and elitism — on “Canerican,” he even winks to his detachment from “up on the stage” — though his tone is mostly comical. The “great conspiracy” the mob rails against is but a world bent on change, one way or the other. And the song’s cutoff title and wompy harmonica lines speak to the abortive nature of such rebellion. In a 21st century defined by constant, often cruel transformation, Young paints resistance as Luddism.

That Young seeks to eschew pretension is shown later, with admissions of his own idleness and ineffectuality. The slow-burning “They Might Be Lost” sees the songwriter’s mind stuck on the “old days” as he waits helplessly for friends who may not be coming. And when Young’s environmentalism resurfaces on “Human Race,” he sounds newly distant and resigned. “Who's gonna save / The human race?” he asks earnestly, conscious that his own time for fighting is waning. Interrupted by screaming guitar that evokes the apocalyptic “fires and floods” he portends, Young weighs the limits of his optimism.

Still, the band rediscovers self-assurance on “Welcome Back,” the album’s emotional climax. “Gonna sing an old song to you,” Young first whispers over a crunchy, slow-driving groove that sounds like the march of time. “I’ve been singing this way for so long / Riding through the storm,” he continues, “Might remind me of who we are.” Just as Young moors himself to the memory of his first guitar on “Heading West,” here he finds in his art the perfect shelter from external turmoil, one that admits "changes to be made” while affirming his core spirit. He even takes advantage of Crazy Horse’s spacious arrangement to display some of the finest, most evocative guitar work of his career, tracing the enormity of life and death with electric cries and whimpers. On this triumphant eight-minute epic, Young and Crazy Horse open not only a “window to your soul” but to their own evolving, indefatigable humanity.

Rounding out the album are three love songs. “Shape of You,” not an Ed Sheeran cover, and “Tumblin’ Thru the Years” reflect on romantic love’s fragility and forms. But the closer, “Don’t Forget Love,” is fittingly the least forgettable, a concise statement that better informs the entirety of Barn. Whether it lies in the beauty of nature, a gift from his mother, his two homelands, his lover, or his tireless art, love is the undercurrent of Young's resilience to change. “Love will bring you back around,” Young gently reminds in a moment that feels true but treacly. He and Crazy Horse can’t be cool forever, but perhaps as long they love, they will be loved back.

Jonathan Offenberg is a web producer for the Washington Examiner. You can read more on his blog, Off the Record.