Streaming Consciously: 70 Years Young, Neil Is Still Raging Against The Machine
Aging in rock and roll is a difficult thing to do gracefully.
Luckily for Neil Young, who amazingly will turn 71 this calendar year, he has rarely if ever done anything gracefully.
This lack of grace dates back to his little-known tenure in a Toronto-based Canadian R&B band called The Mynah Birds (with the late great Buffalo-bred Rick James), continued through his move to Southern California, tenure in Buffalo Springfield (with Stephen Stills) or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and his well-documented solo career from the early 1970’s up through to right now while fronting bands from Crazy Horse to Pearl Jam and now Promise of the Real in the process.
And on this, Young’s forty-second official album under the Neil Young banner, Young sounds as (pardon the pun) young and vital as ever.
The simple but all-encompassing title ‘Earth’, along with what we know of its author should give you some idea of what you’re in store for here.
This is not earth like a recent dearly departed Young contemporary David Bowie famously fell to in film and his own music forty-odd years ago around the same time both were making their big rock star bones.
This is earth in the sense of the sea and sand and the soil sense of the word, meanwhile this is someone still trying to live on it as unobtrusively as he can, concerned for how long the place might last after he’s gone.
So much like ‘Earth’ is quite a topical catch-all for all the beauty that can be experienced while living upon it as well as all the dangerous things that humankind can take from and do to it......this album is also kind of a ‘kitchen sink’ album from a man whose long career has been spent run hard in disparate directions.
At its simplest categorical core, a Neil Young album can usually be boiled into a few general labels: ‘loud, guitar-driven’ (Rust Never Sleeps, Ragged Glory, Le Noise) or ‘soft, harmonica-and-harmony-based’ (Harvest, Harvest Moon), ‘political’ (This Note’s for You, Freedom) or ‘personal’ (Tonight’s The Night, On The Beach), ‘experimental’ (Trans) or ‘traditional’ (Prairie Wind), live or in-studio.
‘Earth’, much like the planet I’m assuming you are reading this particular review upon, encompasses all of them.
Don’t get scared.
If I told you a list of the elements included on this album, then you’d probably be out before you even heard it but that would be a mistake.
It is a live record yet it's also doctored with endless studio overdubs and a plethora of sonic production trickery.
There is indeed tape loops of a live crowd reacting, intermingling in the mix with a cornucopia of nature sounds (bees, thunder, birds, cows, bats, you get the idea) woven throughout it.
Lots of them.
It’s a live record but it doesn’t feature Crazy Horse nor any of the other old buddies that you’re familiar, so if you came here looking for the old war horse Neil Young foot-stomping hits.......then just go back to putting Live Rust on instead.
And if you’re looking to get silly, as Bob Dylan wrote and Neil Young later sang at his 30th Anniversary Concert, you better go back to from where you came.
Because this album is serious bid-ness as The D.O.C. announced in ’89.
Big Business-type business.
The American Farm Industry.
Depletion of Natural Resources.
The Death of Mom-and-Pop stores.
GMO’s (author's note: a term which hilariously is sung in auto-tune each time it’s mentioned. Shots fired? For sure. However, the intended target is likely Target not T-Pain).
Love (for mankind and nature, not the teenage butterfly kind).
Y’know, EARTH........as currently constructed and deconstructed.
So while the “Wooden Ships” his former running partners in CS&N or Jefferson Airplane (before crash-landing in a Starship) might have been ‘just a hippie dream’ that ‘capsized in excess’ as he now sings......?
Neil Young is still living that hippie dream some of them once had, for him it was never some tie-dyed fashioned statement or slogan and for Neil, it’s not over.
And we as the listener, get to be the benefactors of all of Neil’s still-fully-intact righteous-indignation and zest for life that burns inside him.
For some neophytes or fans of more succinct, less directly abrasive tastes, this could probably begin to feel like it’s all a bit much.
I mean you could probably say that off just “Love and Only Love” alone, the epic TWENTY-EIGHT minute coda that concludes this album (which I’m pretty sure has Neil cribbing a lick from Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ around the 22-minute mark).
Yet for those fairly familiar with the man's career who consider themselves fans, you more than likely won’t feel browbeaten by it.
The feeling is more like an elder uncle or grandfather in the family involuntarily inclined to telling the pure unvarnished truth at all times, no matter whose feelings get hurt in the process and you love him for that, even if you occasionally disagree with the methods.
This even holds true (by poetic accident) with the band name of the current crop of relative new jacks he’s playing alongside, Promise of the Real (a band led by Willie Nelson’s son Lukas).
So in a year that found us tragically losing a few legends that weren’t even blessed enough to see their seventies?
Be happy that Neil Young is still out there kicking ass.
And naming names.........
Monsanto, Chevron, Safeway, Starbucks and the rest who catch shrapnel from his pen’s sword and sweet songbird backup vocalists with him since 'Greendale'.
Promise of the Real?
Neil Young is still out here rocking while keeping it realer than penitentiary steel.
Wudder Weight: Four Out Of Five Trees