Living With War
I went through an intensive program a couple years back where I learned to drop my well-tooled hatred of Neil Young and accept him into my heart, and frankly I was all the better for it. But to be honest, the potable water in he grand old man's river of song becomes a trickle after 1975's Zuma and by 1979, the last drops were employed to create all that rust he went on about. There have been moments of saliency, but really, most of hasn't really taken hold. Even Greendale, it was just a little to Prairie Home Companion for me. And spare me the stuff he did with Pearl Jam back then. It sounds great when you are stoned just like, er, everything does.
So when the promise of Living With War, a hard rock trio protest album with some horns thrown in was tacked on everyone's calendar, I cringed a special cringe, one that cried out "No Neil...Ä¶don't do it....we all hate the president too, really, but this is only going to make things worse. Remember 'Rockin' in the Free World' and how many would laud it as a new national anthem? I do. It wasn't pretty."
But ever-vigilant for you, dear readers, I hit the free stream of it, and Lo! I deem it good, and current and maybe a little, no, pretty corny but rather moving. It's not going to make you throw your copy of On The Beach out of the dune buggy as you tear down the mountain, but it's a surprisingly frank and catchy rocker from the old man. The opener "After the Garden" may be the best song he's done in decades. I mean "Let's Impeach the President" with its Bush soundbites and march-on-city-hall chants and trumpets manages to be a great stompy little number that eloquently and effectively portrays the confusion and rage that many have at, what some deem to be, the worst form of capitalist puppetry threatening to fuck the whole goddamn world up just so that some cronies can count up the dividends once their cushy racketeering sentences are commuted by a government of blinking Last Men shoveling dirt into their own graves along with everyone else's. That's how some people view it, anyway.
What it is - simultaneously the first Neil Young album and first protest album I've been able to take all the way through in ages. Sonically, it's the best of his love - buzzsaw ragged guitar glory over a loping beat, with him incanting his songs without pushing his voice in the whinier registers he often occupies. "Roger and Out" hits a high point for me, slow knock-on-heaven's-door magma lope and apocalyptic folk haze.
Neil Young is probably not going to change your mind on much, just like when he called out Alabama and Southern men, it will probably just rain back on him. He'll be called a traitor or something, I'm sure, and country artists (who would be out of a genre had Harvest never existed) will make a big show of smashing the CD when it comes out, but fuck it. Neil Young doesn't care, he's killed his career countless times over for less and still come back and that's what's beautiful about him.
I'm still not going to listen to that goddamn Springsteen album of Pete Seeger songs. I gotta draw the line somewhere.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com