Neil Young and Promise of the Real: The Monsanto Years (Warners)

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Neil Young: Monsanto Years
Neil Young and Promise of the Real: The Monsanto Years (Warners)

When Neil Young -- who turns 70 later this year -- ascends to the great beyond you can be certain the obituaries will tick off his many great songs and albums, and note what a wilful and idiosyncratic artist he was.

It will all be true.

But while he's in the here and now it's also worth noting that for every great album there was at least one other indifferent one and -- increasingly by this writer's count -- another that was unmemorable if not bloody awful.

Never having been an aficionado of his hippie-vibe acoustic whine music, it's therefore easy to dismiss a song like Wolf Moon here which opens with, "Wolf Moon, thank you for rising, big sky I'm grateful for your parting clouds".

That said, there is fragility in his voice and the rest of the lyrics have a heartfelt quality which will appeal to those who loved Neil when he was singing Old Man and such.

It also fits the general thrust of this album which takes broad swipes at those -- like Monsanto and their ilk -- who would damage the environment.

And that is fine.

But Young also adopts a hectoring tone and talks down to his audience on songs like People Want to Hear About Love in which he takes us -- the great unwashed or middle-class yuppies, just "people" -- to task for not wanting to hear about corporates hijacking our rights and world poverty.

Well, here's the news Neil.

We do want to hear about things and we do daily. Many of us act on the information, vote thoughtfully and don't need you lecturing us about our perceived shortcomings. It's insulting and crass.

To have some rock star who has often sung about love -- but came damn late to the war in Iraq with his Living With War in '06, years after the invasion and the inevitable debacle which followed -- talk down to you is like being condescended to by a late-comer.

And frankly his song here A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop (Get it? Starbucks? Monsanto? Et al) is just dumb. The adolescent title alone should warn you of the intellectual effort behind it.

And the title track is dreary and embarrassing in the extreme, so bloody awful in fact you really should hear it. Which is why it is posted here as a consumer warning in all its almost-eight minute awfulness.

This is another of those knocked off Neil Young albums of which we have seen far too many in the past decade.

Does anyone cherish Fork in the Road or Americana (which sounded like working drawings). Despite being pretty good in places it is even easy to forget A Treasure.

Could anyone take the vanity project-in-a-phone booth sound of A Letter Home seriously from a guy advocating higher quality in sound reproduction?

Yes, Le Noise was thrilling and Psychedelic Pill had a bit going for it . . . but look back through his releases: old live recordings (some damn good but from back in his heyday), stuff from the vaults polished or represented, instantly forgettable knocked off shit like this one . . .

The band here -- which includes a couple of Willie Nelson's sons -- don't even have the appealingly leaden plod of Crazy Horse either.

The Monsanto Years is further proof that despite what the artist might wish, most political music is obliged to paint in broad swipes and is crippled by reductive dogma. Think about it, the best political songs aren't "political" in the narrow sense of the word, they sidestep the blunt blade.

Neil should watch it. He's clocking on and the road to Hell is paved with such good intentions as there are here.

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Your Comments

Tim Dowson - Jul 20, 2015

Thanks for the warning. I wish I had received the same prior to reading his truly awful recent autobiography "Waging Heavy Peace" although it did go some way to explaining how the muse has deserted him.

Grant McDougall - Jul 20, 2015

I pretty much feel the same way about Neil. He's released many great albums, but is way too prolific for his own good.

Waging Heavy Peace is a poor book, but Jimmy McDonough's 2002 bio, Shakey, is a superb summary of Young's life and music.

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