Meta Reviews: Neil Young's "Peace Trail"
Neil Young - Peace Trail
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Neil Young's newest album "Peace Trail" is due to be released today, December 9, Friday.
As with tradition, meta reviews of Neil Young's album "Peace Trail". (And feel to add your impression in comments below.)
USATODAY | Neil Young is political as ever on 'Peace Trail' by Maeve McDermott:
While many of his rock peers spend their late-era careers recording cover albums and embarking on wildly lucrative tours, Neil Young, 71, is as prolific and fiery as ever. And given the heightened political climate into which he releases his latest studio album Peace Trail (** and a half out of ****, out Fri.), there's no shortage of societal ills for the legendary singer-songwriter to condemn, his trademark reedy voice only slightly shakier with age.From Boston Globe | The power of protest on Neil Young’s ‘Peace Trail’ by Maura Johnston:
But in 2016, protest music looks, and sounds, much different than the guitar-strumming screeds Young has spent his career recording. As this point, he's documented a half-century of injustice in song, from early favorites like Southern Man and Ohio to more recent crusades against Monsanto and big agribusiness. And from the sounds of Peace Trail, the weight of the world is still sitting heavy on Young’s shoulders. His new songs pulse with immediacy, moving down a checklist of 2016’s most salient political topics, particularly the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
Over pow-wow drums and acoustic guitars, highlights Indian Givers and the album's title track paint a dramatic picture of the conflict at Standing Rock, the songs’ heroes fighting for the fundamental right to their land. "There’s a battle ragin’ on the sacred land / Our brothers and sisters had to take a stand," he sings on Indian Givers. Meanwhile, John Oaks tells a story of police brutality from a different perspective, focusing on a farmer struggling to protect his workers, killed in his truck by an officer's gun.
This cover of 'Peace Trail,' the latest album by Neil
Peace Trail sees Young in Woody Guthrie mode, disinterested in beautiful turns of phrase, opting for spare arrangements and plainspoken storytelling. At its best, it's almost comforting to hear him paint precarious current events as noble, good-versus-evil crusades. But as is the case with many of his later, social justice-minded recordings, he walks a fine line between truth-telling and ornery. On Peace Trail's weakest moments, Young sounds less like a soothsaying voice of reason and more like an old man railing against new technology he doesn’t understand. At times, that's intentional. "I'm lost in this new generation, left me behind it seems / Listening to the shadow of Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze sounding like TV," he sings on My Pledge over disembodied Auto-Tuned vocals.
As valid as Young's complaints are, that technology has rendered humans devoid of empathy, he often adds flourishes of electronic music that make his point too literally, particularly the chorus of automated voices on album closer My New Robot. And for a new generation of listeners, who’ve connected with the rallying cries of Kendrick Lamar’s Alright and the charged imagery of Beyonce’s Formation video, Peace Trail's guitar-strumming storytelling may seem quaint in comparison.
Still, even if he’s not the voice speaking for the new wave of civil unrest, Young’s is still an essential one, with Peace Trail the latest entry in a storied songbook spanning 60 years of protest. Recently, Bob Dylan made history by winning the Nobel Prize for his contributions to the American musical tradition; while Dylan may be his generation’s poet, Young is the dogged historian, still standing with the protesters, decades after Dylan left them behind.
Young’s distinctive paper-thin voice guides the album, quivering with import and plainspoken lyrics that have clearly been thrumming inside him for a while. On “Indian Givers,” he takes aim at the chronic mistreatment of Native Americans; its video, unveiled in September, was released as a show of support with the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. (“Show Me,” which creeps along on a delicate riff and a lazy-day bassline, touches on this as well.) The shambolic “John Oaks” is a folk ballad focused on a farmer who’s been slowly radicalized while watching the shoddy treatment received by his workers; Young was one of the founders of Farm Aid, the long-running concert series benefiting family farmers. “Glass Accident,” one of the few tracks to focus on more personal matters, is drenched in regret and reverb.From Daily Cal | Neil Young supports Standing Rock activists with novelty in ‘Peace Trail’ by
“Peace Trail” is a hard record to get a hold of at times. The songs are so bare-bones — and, at times, meandering — that it feels a bit tossed-off. (Young wrote and recorded the album at rock guru Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La Studios over a weeklong span; “I gave up a lot of disciplines on this record,” he told the Los Angeles Times.) Sometimes the songs suffer, particularly when the arrangements go beyond the guitar-drums-bass setup. The generational lament “My Pledge,” where Young is shadowed by what sounds like his Auto-Tuned ghost, doesn’t quite land, while “My New Robot,” a harmonica-accented commentary on technology’s encroachments on humanity, cedes vocal duties midway through to virtual siblings of Siri and Alexa in a commentary that works better conceptually than it does on record. That Young can make such an idiosyncratic, pointed piece of mass-produced art, though, is a testament to his status as a rock-music beacon who can, possibly, lead his fellow musicians — peers and followers — to a place where they raise their voices as well.
Written over four days, Peace Trail follows a cohesive path through the history of colonial exploitation and othering, weaving through the mire of the recent protests opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline for its negative environmental and cultural impacts. Young has demonstrated his unity with the activists at Standing Rock through public statements and performances, including one he gave on his 71st birthday in honor of the protestors.From Neil Young - Peace Trail album review: Cantankerous Young takes the lesser road travelled by Joe Breen
Out of the 10 tracks of Peace Trail, three (“Indian Givers,” “Show Me” and “Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders”) are explicitly linked to contemporary activist causes. The idiom “Indian givers” is one steeped in a history of racism and exploitation, alluding to the early colonists’ perception that Native Americans cut deceptive deals, making trades out of supposed gifts. Young turns the phrase on its head by using it to describe the current “battle raging on the sacred land.” For the past “500 years,” Young warbles, the indigenous populations of the United States have had their resources, culture and sacred lands robbed from them by European colonists and their descendants; if any one group were “Indian givers,” it would be the settlers.
In both “Indian Givers” and “Show Me,” Young laments the Standing Rock conflict and expresses his discontent with big oil’s impact on public policy: “Behind big money,” he sighs in “Indian Givers,” “justice always fails.”
“Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders,” while also socially critical, takes a more ironic tack, examining xenophobia by simulating it. With its sensationalist title at odds with its mellow instrumentals, this song grasps attention at first listen; add in the lyrics of a suspicious narrator verging on hawkish (“I think I know who to blame — it’s all those people with funny names moving into our neighborhood”), and “Hang Gliders” begins to resemble the witch-hunt of vigilante anti-terrorism. This blurred line between national security and overt racism, an especially relevant theme today, is more subtly commented upon here. By creating a dubiously trustworthy narrator, Young urges listeners to perhaps reconsider our own inner monologues next time we wonder about outsiders “if they’re bad or good.”
Even in Peace Trail tracks that don’t target current events, Young demonstrates the lyrical and musical acumen that has earned him renown. Given folk’s antiquated roots, Peace Trail simultaneously respects the genre’s grounding and transmutes it into a more modern art form.
Of course, being Neil Young, even a near-shambles has an endearing character and fascination; you can’t fault his enthusiasm. His stand against pipelines running through Native American lands (Indian Givers) and the targeting of the Other (Terrorist Suicide Hanglider) are heartfelt, while the admissions in Can’t Stop Working betray a deep sadness and sense of guilt.From The Guardian | Neil Young: Peace Trail review – a political dream defaced by Alexis Petridis:
The two best tracks by some distance are the title number, with Young’s wistful voice counterpointed by signature electric guitar, and Show Me, a bluesy riff on activism that is just the right side of understated. Suffice it to say, Peace Trail is more a quirky footnote than a chapter in a mighty career.
Fans of Young’s fabled screw-you contrariness might argue that there’s a certain pleasing perversity about My New Robot’s return to the vocoder experiments of 1982’s Trans, given the general dismay the vocoder experiments of 1982’s Trans caused in the first place, or indeed about the way Texas Rangers contrives to make a musician as adept as legendary session drummer Jim Keltner sound like he hasn’t got a clue what he’s doing, but the novelty wears off pretty quickly, particularly on the latter track, which is so embarrassing you find yourself wondering where to look as it plays. At least one reviewer has gamely described it as “jazz-influenced”, which tells you more about the endless willingness of diehard Young fans to give the old guy the benefit of the doubt than it does the song itself, which is based around a riff recalling the nursery rhyme This Old Man and resembles jazz only in the sense that it sounds like Young is literally making it up as he goes along.
The flimsiness of the music focuses attention on the lyrics, which might well be the point, but turns out to be the very definition of a mixed blessing. Show Me aims for the terse sharpness of Ohio – both songs are done in 10 lines – but somehow ends up sounding woolly, a mass of confused platitudes. John Oaks is a talking blues that at eight minutes seems infinitely longer than the half-hour feedback-drenched jams that so annoyed the punters last time Crazy Horse came to town. It’s obvious from the outset that the titular hero – “a mellow guy … drinkin’ chai and smokin’ weed” – is going to come to a sticky end at the hands of the police who do the shadowy bidding of the giant corporations. By about halfway through, you find yourself willing the police and the shadowy giant corporations to get a move on and whack him, which surely can’t have been Young’s aim. Meanwhile, Indian Givers’ peevish chorus of “I wish somebody would share the news” smacks of both those social media posts that tell you the Mainstream Media don’t want you to know something that’s patently been all over the Mainstream Media like a rash, and of Neil Young’s apparently unshakeable conviction that he’s the only musician currently writing protest songs: a theory that was demonstrably ridiculous when he mooted it around the time of 2006’s Living With War – an album that arrived in the shops 18 months after Green Day’s 15m-selling American Idiot – and seems even more ridiculous now, in an age when Beyoncé pays homage to the Black Panthers at the Superbowl and hip-hop feels more explicitly politicised than it has in years.
That said, there are moments when Peace Trail fitfully sparks into life. The frequent blasts of distorted harmonica that whack you in the face feel suitably disruptive, while the title track is genuinely great: a song admitting Young’s confusion at the sheer pace of current events, it’s infinitely more impactful and affecting than all the sloganeering and hectoring around it, not least because it boasts the album’s solitary indelible tune.