NPR First Listen: Neil Young + Promise Of The Real, 'The Monsanto Years'
From review on NPR:
"People Want To Hear About Love" is the most artful moment on The Monsanto Years, Young's 36th studio album as a solo artist. Here, we have a series of taut and stone-simple Neil Young songs that fit together under a catchall concept (about companies wielding extraordinary influence over many aspects of our quality of life), each powered by its own supply of righteous fury. Enjoyment of it probably depends less on whether you agree with Young's positions than on how much tolerance you have for a mantra, repeated frequently, using the three syllables that make up the trade name Monsanto. It also helps to like your harangues set to three-chord rock and expressed through triadic melodies. This is not subtle, Harvest Moon Neil, brooding at the piano. This is ornery, snarly Neil. Give him a megaphone and a transcript of these lyrics, put him on a street corner and watch what happens.Full review on NPR.
At times in the lyrics, there's a sense that Young simply cranked up the Current Events Couplet Generator and let rip about everything that's bothering him. One minute, "Big Box" tackles the corporate bailouts — "Too big to fail / Too rich for jail" — and in the next he's swerved into the campaign-finance quagmire: "They cast their votes and no one gets excited," he shouts, sounding two steps away from meltdown, "because they are Citizens United." Other songs focus more successfully on a single theme: The verses of "A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop" explain Young's dismay over the Vermont GMO-labeling controversy in which Starbucks and Monsanto became allies. And the somber title track breaks down, in simple language, Young's position on Monsanto's unique control over the agriculture industry. "The farmer knows he's got to grow what he can sell ... Every year he buys the patented seeds / Poison-ready, they're what the corporation needs."
Young can be counted on to go big when venting indignation — remember the massive choir he deployed on 2006's Living With War, to help him unfurl a sweeping lament about Iraq? Here, he gets help from Promise Of The Real, a proudly ragged rock band fronted by Micah and Lukas Nelson, sons of Willie Nelson. Though not as loose as Crazy Horse was in its prime, the band understands exactly the guitar punctuation each vocal phrase needs — sometimes that means sinewy overlapping lead lines, and sometimes it means buzzsaw chords pushed to the edge of distortion. At times, Young's tortured diatribes can take up all the air in a mix; the album's strongest moments, including the Stones-esque "Workin' Man," achieve a balance between howling vocal outrage and badass rhythmic stomp. The scruff in the music brings to life his troubling big idea about the rape of the land and its corresponding impact on the soul.
Whatever you think of Young's politics or methods, give him this much: After all this time, after decades spent ranting about nuclear power and corporate malfeasance and the plight of the family farmer, he still sounds like a true believer — and an idealist. He's reached the age where people often become resigned, but chooses, perhaps quixotically, to play the worried town crier. Of course, there's no shortage of material for sequels.