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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Review of the Moment: Neil Young's 'The Monsanto Years'

The Review of the Moment is from the post "Curt of chord and filled with purpose": Neil Young's 'The Monsanto Years' Review by flyingscotzman:
To be honest I don't know what to make of the album (hence my meandering comments above). I've erred between loving it and hating it in the last 24 hours, something I can't say has ever happened with any of Neil's other albums. That old quote about there being a fine line between genius and madness is probably the best description I can give. The shrewd, mysterious songwriter has been replaced with a mad scientist. Something is lost, something is gained.

Earlier today I listened to the album Tonight's The Night, and also the superb bootleg "Neil Young Plays Acoustic In Paris". Both show off Neil at his absolute best. In comparison, Monsanto almost sounds like it was recorded by another artist (at times it sounds like a parody, as several reviews have noted), and largely suffers in comparison. And yet: there's something this new album has that those earlier records don't. It's hard to put a finger on. Is this work inferior, or is it just very different? Tricky question.

I don't think The Monsanto Years will have the staying power of Neil's best work. In a few months, my guess is everyone will have largely forgotten about it, as happened with A Letter Home. But if you are one of those fans who has listened to it once or twice and given up, my suggestion is to give it another few listens. In fact, take time to read the lyrics in the booklet, rather than just listening to them.

Get into the perspective of the singer, and it begins to make sense.

Thanks Scotsman! Interesting observations. Certainly the ambivalent reaction is insightful especially in comparing an experience such as Tonight's The Night.

You can't listen to Tonight's The Night on a bright sunny morning. It just doesn't work. Likewise, maybe you can't listen to 'The Monsanto Years' unless you're interested in hearing from those who speak truth to power.

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At 7/01/2015 10:28:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

By coincidence, I listened to A Letter Home last night. I'd forgotten what a great album it is--I think people got distracted by the gimmick of its production and missed that it's an intimate, personal performance of well-chosen songs done as only Neil can. And the production doesn't take away a thing; it sounded a lot better than I'd remembered. If you haven't put it on in a while, give it another spin!

At 7/01/2015 11:06:00 AM, Blogger La Johnson said...

Oh come one everyone what are you talking about? Comparisons with Tonights the Night - are frankly ludicrous. Recorded loosely just like his more recent but look at the songs on TTN - it's the songs that have been lost.

At 7/01/2015 11:14:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Dan - thanks. We'll have to give ALH a spin. It's been awhile. Coming back to an overlooked Neil album is always a revelation.

@LA - relax. flyingscotzman wasn't comparing the quality or impact of TTN & MY.

His point was that the initial reaction of many to TTN was that it was a sub-par album. But as we know after a long period, TTN has risen to become the cream of the catalog.

All we are saying is MY a chance before dismissing after a spin or 2. And that's what Dan above's point is as well.

stay calm, man. peace

At 7/01/2015 12:08:00 PM, Blogger TOM said...

You heard it here first:
These will be some of his best live shows EVER!
Grab a ticket...

At 7/01/2015 02:33:00 PM, Blogger The Zuma Band said...

There are many reviews coming out now, as Neil Young has always been a major artist deserving of attention and a listen. The subject matter also contributes to the interest, so he has an audience that is willing to hear him out.

For me the music and the order of songs on the album is strong, but as I've expressed - and now, after repeated listens to "The Monsanto Years"- I continue to think that he should have taken a few moments to go back and do some lyric editing. His message is important! He says it is! So he should have been just a bit more caring in how he shaped the words that convey his message. For me that's the dichotomy - he cares strongly about the issue contained in the album but he doesn't do what's necessary to make the songs as powerful as they could and should be. And because of that perverse approach he won't get the audience that he wants the message to reach.

People want to hear
songs about Monsanto
written with anger
AND poetry

LA Times:

The Atlantic:

At 7/01/2015 05:51:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

For the first time ever since I started listening to Neil (1976) I have not bought his album right after it was released. I have stuck with him and been a tried and true fan but given the relative schlock of the last 10+ years, I just can't take it anymore. To quote my favorite singer-songwriter "Been burned!" once too many times. I wish it were different but I just have no interest anymore. I think "Prairie Wind" was his last truly great album (Psychedelic Pill was pretty good though). Everything else (minus perhaps one, maybe two great songs on some albums (Like "Razor Love", "Light A Candle", "Ordinary People", etc), for the most part it's been really disappointing. No longer taking this journey. Maybe I will come back someday, but for now I am on to bigger and better things...

At 7/01/2015 06:48:00 PM, Blogger Columella said...

Funny - the other day I put on "Tonight's the Night" after a couple "Monsanto Years" songs. Wow. Not a good comparison. I also listened to one of my favorite and totally underrated Neil albums, "Reactor." Even that album, which has some silly and sometimes quite obvious lyrics, really kicks ass compared to "MY." I really can't get into this album despite a few decent tunes. Horrible lyrics. Where's the poetry, Neil? This review from The Quietus about sums up my feeling, sadly.

At 7/01/2015 09:03:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

That quietus review got two likes. Columella and David Crosby.

At 7/01/2015 10:05:00 PM, Blogger The Zuma Band said...

That Quietus review was so undergrad English Lit...I'm sorry, so undergrad "Literary Arts" snarky that it makes me want to believe that Neil made The Monsanto Years to deliberately annoy such arrogant twits. Kind of like his motivation to make "Everybody's Rockin'" to bug the crap out of David Geffen.

At 7/01/2015 10:06:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

What's frustrating to me is that it appears he's not really trying to make good music. One could argue the same applied to most of his genre jumping 80's work, but back then he was at least temporarily committed to what he was doing. Here, there's no commitment or craft, just loosely based song skeletons with forced lyrics in their first incarnation.

Our hero will tell us it's all about capturing the initial spark, but that's nonsense (to a large extent). Spontaneity and creativity can exist in music after the first or second take. I'm all for recording live and leaving in a few warts, but a serious artist listens intently to the music and takes pride in shaping it into more than it was initially. (Especially as one gets older and the music isn't flowing the way it could have been--Pardon my Heart for loosely paraphrasing..)!

Regarding the topicality/protest "statements" he's trying to make, I believe the only thing that truly matters to him is the pristine quality of nature. Everything else just boils down to: corporations bad, people good--really not too bold. I don't think he knew what a GMO was six months ago, and he won't care about it six months from now.

I'm not trying to be too harsh, just calling it as I see it these days. While Neil has always been inconsistent personally and professionally, on balance I think we'd all agree that he's given much more than he's taken, and his heart is usually in the right place.

And again, for those who are about to see the live show, I suspect you're in for a good evening. Neil will be having fun with the old and new stuff, and in person this Monsanto "music" will be more enjoyable.

At 7/02/2015 01:47:00 AM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...


I think Neil makes a conscientious effort to be well-informed. From all I've watched, heard, and read, including Neil's own books, he seems, for lack of a better word, geeky and prone to intensively pursuing ideas. Whenever he waxes on about Pono or cars (including LincVolt), he seems to me like someone who is willing to do some homework, even if his leanings are heavy to begin with and he does have great emotional investment in his favorite causes. At the same time, he is an artist and thus one who likely acts on passion and even impulse to create. So I will say that he does things partially to get things out of his system.

More general reflections: I see a few songs on this album making their way into my playlists, particularly Wolf Moon, Rules of Change, and If I Don't Know, and New Day for Love. Big Box has a fighting chance, and I think Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop will be remembered for pure novelty, which is no small feat in the context of Neil Young's catalogue. I'd never have dreamed a song like that could be so catchy but damned if it doesn't get caught in my head.

At 7/02/2015 09:59:00 AM, Blogger Genghis Kon said...

@zuma I agree full heartedly with your opinion. If Neil really wants to get his message across, he should know that the lyrics can't simply be thrown out there- they should be implanted in the mind of the listener. He has created countless lines of poetry over the years that are incredibly memorable, and few will forget those lines. If Neil really wants to turn people against organizations such as Monsanto, he should try to write his political statements in such a way that they will remain memorable, even iconic, to the listener. "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming" will never be forgotten. Of course, the method of molding curt but honest political statements into enduring script is a thing of mystery. It requires a certain immediacy, for one. Though songs like "Big Box" seem a bit better off, "A Rock Star Bucks" for example, just feels kind of laid back. Pissed, but laid back, like a football fan who cares enough to yell, but not enough to throw the remote at the TV. Ludicrous similes aside, there also should be some form of metaphor introduced. When a message is delivered completely raw, the feeling is sometimes lost to some, as they just see it as another happening in the world. If it is paired with a certain form of symbolism, it can transcend the borders of news reporting and become something that feels much more personal to the listener. I am rambling now, but my point is that writing a protest song is NOT an easy process. It is one of mysterious recipe that very few understand, and I don't think even Neil does completely. He has had moments of brilliance in the realm of protest music, and those moments are still here, just fewer and farther in between. With enough polishing, as others have said, albums like MY can be transformed from diamonds in the rough to a sparkling gem of honest passion and intentions.

At 7/02/2015 10:55:00 AM, Blogger The Zuma Band said...

"Ohio" was based on an immediate and nationally publicized event, so the content was clear, even as the words were brief. The numbers of syllables follow the beats in the measures, usually about 8. By contrast he loads up some of the measures in "Monsanto" with way to many syllables; that's the reason they can't really be sung, as the space is much too crowded to allow the flow that singing is. It is as if he took the same space as "Ohio" but instead used something like this-

"The Ohio National Guard and President Richard Nixon are coming here soon
All of us, the young generation, are at last isolated together
This summer of 1970 I can hear the pounding of drums
A total of four students were shot by the Ohio National Guard in Ohio"

Now the Monsanto/GMO stuff is obviously nowhere near as obvious and understandable as the massacre at Kent State, so I guess he thought he had to be super explicit and obvious. But in doing so he got in the way of his message.

At 7/02/2015 10:28:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Tonight's The Night 9/10
Rust Never Sleeps 8.5/10
Zuma 8/10
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere 7.5/10
On The Beach 7.5/10
After The Gold Rush 7/10
Harvest 7/10
Psychedelic Pill 7/10
Sleeps With Angels 7/10
Freedom 7/10
American Stars N Bars 6.5/10
Living With War 6.5/10
Broken Arrow 6.5/10
Ragged Glory 6.5/10
Silver And Gold 6/10
Reactor 6/10
Storytone 5/10
Greendale 4.5/10
A Letter Home 4/10
The Monsanto Years 3/10

At 7/04/2015 02:27:00 AM, Blogger romat73 said...

Listened to the new album about 3 times now, I'm liking it. Much more excited about this one than 'Storytone'. I was trying to get into 'Storytone'... but it still wasn't exciting me (I did enjoy 'A Letter Home' though).

Music-wise parts of 'Monsanto Years' grabbed me right away, some of it reminded me of some mid-90s Neil (Broken Arrow & Mirror Ball stuff). I agree some lyrics are a bit clunky at first, but I liked the music and choruses on 'People Want to Hear About Love', 'A New Day for Love', 'Rock Star Bucks' and 'Monsanto Years' immediately. The other songs started growing on me after the 2nd/3rd listen.

For Neil's last decade of albums, my favorites are 'Chrome Dreams II', 'Living w/War', 'Americana' and most of 'Psychedelic Pill'. And the new one is starting to sound almost as good as them I think. (...I feel like 'Fork in the Road' is his worst in the last decade, and 'Le Noise' is somewhere in the middle)

At 7/05/2015 06:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I enjoy The Monsanto Years, and feel blessed to still have Neil, Bob, Pete, and precious few others "still on the road," living with me in real time, I have one issue with the new one: I expected more "breakup" songs i.e., Blood on the Tracks. You see, environmental songs aside, I (incorrectly) saw Storytone as Neil's Planet Waves (you know, the split with Pegi), and figured his next would be more fully developed about the subject of lost love, regret, you know what I mean. The last three songs on Storytone seemed to be to show Neil coming to terms with the pros and cons of his "new life," "traveling light," with old and new love floating together in his head and heart. Oh, well. Neil through me another curveball. So what else is new? Neil is angry on MY and I think the real bad guy he's attacking with Old Black, lyrics, and voice, h=is are present-day apathy. "People Want to Hear About Love" is a putdown song like Mid-sixties Dylan. Why face the ugly truth when we can hear another love ("romantic") song? Also, Neil's phrasing on "Love" and most of the record is just terrific. We love you, Neil, "keep on rockin" indeed. --Bob Brodsky

At 7/06/2015 01:46:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

Topanga Daze gets the prize for silliest comment: " I don't think he knew what a GMO was six months ago, and he won't care about it six months from now." Neil Young has been doing his annual Farm Aid show for decades and now he doesn't know what a GMO is? Is this your real opinion? You are just talking shit here. He will care a LOT about the SAME STUFF in 10 years if we are lucky enough to have him still with us. He doesn't like Global Warming. He doesn't like the Tar Sands oil plundering taking place in Canada. He opposes Fracking and Pipelines. Neil Gets it. The spoiled bankers who don't go to jail. You must be incredibly shallow to project this short attention span onto Neil. I like the album and it is very touching that he lays it out. He is on the right side of history here. You apathetic masses who don't see the obvious problems with GMO's are the real problem: Rapidly increasing, hundreds of millions of gallons more poison (Roundup) is being sprayed on our food supply. This is a serious health threat, since, as the WHO says, "It probably causes Cancer." So wake up and see the big picture. Wolf Moon is a mournful and sad prayer of gratitude to…. the Earth (I don't see the song as being about the moon at all). "Some Hearts were broken." Neil reveals his Love life scars.

At 7/06/2015 02:07:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

Seattle just had its warmest june on record and July is continuing to be very hot. The planet is changing. Will this record sound different to you after major environmental shifts for the worse? Will his lyrical references to all the fish DYING sound more Prophetic after an enormous crash of the ocean life system as we know it? I suggest IT WILL look a lot more impressive and amazing to the historians of our failed planet that Neil Young was the only one talking about it. Ocean acidification and warming will bring his words to reality. Have you seen the 100 year storms that happen every month lately, or every few weeks? The drought in California? I admit the album is not among my favorite Neil Young albums, and I do have them all. But I tell you, I am PROUD to be a Neil Young fan since he is the only one with enough balls, brains, and heart to talk about the stuff that really matters. Neil Young is going down swinging, if he's going down at all. He hasn't disappointed me. "Psychedelic Pill was... (fill in the blank, anything other than superb, exceptional, etc.)." Man, you people are freaking hard to please. Psychedelic Pill was a Monstrous Masterpiece. Le Noise? Only one of the greatest rock albums ever made. One of my favorite Neil albums ever. Angry World. So inventive. He is still the Gun. Old Black will still reign supreme in his hands. The Jet engine in the Hurricane is screaming. He is a force of nature. Don't write him off. He delivers. Check your Libido and look in the mirror. Ask yourself who has changed. Is Neil so different? Is it strange he should change? I loved Storytone (solo). The line about the trees without leaves in a desert makes sense to me finally…. Hell-O. Its California. Or its Seattle. We have California's weather now. You all ready for a Hurricane? The Smart Money is on Florida or South Carolina where Global Warming Denial has reached Fever Pitch. One hit to the city on Florida and watch your 401K start to Crumble. This is the modern reality. California was the agricultural powerhouse of the US. If it were a country, 10 years ago, it would have been the 5th biggest economy in the world. Now, they can't farm anymore. Wake up call, y'all. Thank you, Neil Young.


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