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Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Monsanto Years: Going Where No Musician Has Gone Before

Corporate Food, Will It Make You Fat and Sick?

A very extensive and in depth track by track analysis of Neil Young and The Promise Of The Real "The Monsanto Years" (2015) | Alan's Album Archives:
I would hate to get on the wrong side of Neil Young.

Though it takes a lot to make him angry, once Neil's passion is roused it seems to be very hard for him to put that fire out. Where most singer-songwriters would turn a problem into a single song and forget about it the minute the studio lights go out, Neil can and does spend whole albums exploring what's on his mind and on his heart. Neil chooses his targets with care too: in the past only Richard Nixon and George Bush have felt the full force of his wrath but here it is again, this time aimed squarely at a company most famous for producing genetically modified crops. As far as I know no musician has ever had a go at a single company before - except the odd record label perhaps - but suddenly it all makes sense as Neil uses Monsanto as both a specific case of corruption and scandal everyone can relate to and as a wider metaphor for what has gone wrong with the world in the past few years (Starbucks gets quite a kicking too). 'Too rich for jail' Neil sighs, before sarcastically cackling 'Corporations have 'feelings', they're just like people - just harder to control!'

Even more than 'Living With War, the anti-Iraq and Afghanistan war album from 2005, this sounds like the album it felt like Neil and his colleagues should be making in the wake of 'Ohio', standing up for those who don't have a voice and trying to add his own views to run alongside what gets reported in the media as the 'truth'. The biggest problem with this record is that its not the CSNY album it should be and that Neil's ability to get mad means that he's still mad at his old buddies who could have shaped this record from another promising-but-not-quite-there record into the comeback album of all time: this album seems built for burning Stills-Young guitar duels and angelic mocking harmonies and would have benefited greatly from having a couple of songs by each of CSN to compare and contrast with. As with so many Neil albums recently, 'Monsanto' would have made a bigger impact still if it hadn't quite so much the same all the way through.
This is a very detailed review of The Monsanto Years and we urge all to give it a full reading. (Thanks Alan!)

A couple of quick points just on this brief opening: 1) It is important to note how unique it is what Neil Young has done here in terms of nearly single handedly taking on one the biggest, baddest corporate actors out there, and 2) while it may have been even more compelling with CSNY or SY, it seems that the youthful vigor of POTR is the real deal.

The Monsanto Years - Neil Young + Promise Of The Real
(Click here to enlarge/zoom)

Also, see Corporate Food, Will It Make You Fat and Sick?

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At 9/08/2015 02:50:00 PM, Blogger The Zuma Band said...

.."this album seems built for burning Stills-Young guitar duels and angelic mocking harmonies ..."

Uh, no.

This guy, though well meaning, obviously did not go to any of the live concerts with POTR, where he would have seen plenty of burning guitar work and angelic mocking harmonies.
And, who better to team up with for such an effort than the 20 somethings of POTR, rather than the living history geezer museum of CSN? CSN may endorse the concept, but it's the kids who are destined to live in Monsanto world. The message of a CSN&Y effort would be, "Hey, here's some more of the f-ed up world we bequeath to you. Sorry it sucks, kids. Good luck...and maybe promote this on your social media, because we're like your dads or grand dads and we want you to "like" us and maybe pay for some downloads"

At 9/08/2015 02:56:00 PM, Blogger The Zuma Band said... what was I thinking? CSN&Y's demographic (55 to dead) would just get cranky, "We want another version of "Guenivere" or "Our House", not this political tirade! It's too loud, too! Please, just something to soothe our transition to gated communities and assisted living...And this can't be good for my Monsanto portfolio!"

At 9/08/2015 04:26:00 PM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9/08/2015 04:28:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Good points ZB!

Agree that POTR was the perfect band for Neil for TMY.

The CSNY demographic and their parents got us into this mess and it's the POTR's generation job to get us old geezers out of it. Hell of a deal.

But thanks to other old geezers like Neil, Willie and others, maybe we can turn this ship of fools around.

"It's a bad day to do nothin'!" or "Right side of left - right side of wrong!"

At 9/08/2015 04:31:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Mr H. - hmm. Maybe you read TZB's comments too quickly?

we think we're all in agreement that as well meaning as the reviewer might be, as we all know, LMIB. Once you've experienced POTR it would be very hard to go back to CSNY.

Of course, never say never with anything Neil....

At 9/08/2015 06:03:00 PM, Blogger The Zuma Band said...

I thought the entire review was quite thorough, well thought out, and I agree with a lot of what he had to say. I have said many of the same things...but my opinion was reshaped by experiencing the live concerts, a perspective that the reviewer obviously did not have.

My specific criticism was aimed at the reviewer's repeated suggestion that CSN would have been a better vehicle to deliver it. I think that result would have been "extremely negative, cliched and really quite pedantic."

In concert Neil Young framed the Monsanto stuff within the context of his own work, a frame that would not worked in a CSNY context. It would not have been as successful as the wild build of energy at the POTR shows. It would have been very much like the LWW CSNY concerts, which antagonized many of the (cranky right wing)older fans that CSN attracts.

At 9/08/2015 06:06:00 PM, Blogger The Zuma Band said...

ps- I'm referring to a subset of fans of a certain age who either always were or have become more right wing with age

At 9/08/2015 08:50:00 PM, Blogger Fort Mac said...

" The moon is broken and the sky is cracked , come on up to the house
Get off the cross .... we could use the wood ... come on up to the house "

At 9/08/2015 09:52:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

CSNY is history, POTR the future. This album would never work with the old guard. Neil is still the voice of generations when he puts his pen where his muse is. The concert I saw was as good and as fun as any incarnation of Neil bands. That's no disrespect to Crazy Horse or the Electric Band or CSN...whoever....these shows just had a new energy in the new songs and even the 'hits' that everyone knew or sang along with. It's Neil YOUNG, not Neil OLD. All the young dudes, carry the NEWs!

At 9/09/2015 10:05:00 AM, Blogger Paul Dionne said...

One thing I would say is that The Monsanto Years is hardly Neil "angry". Neil calculates before he strikes, and the tone of much of the songs is bemusement really.

At 9/09/2015 10:30:00 AM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

I think many fans here treat live shows/tours with as much or more relevance than actual albums, and I think that's a huge mistake.

Every Neil tour has been special to me for a variety of reasons as the live context is very powerful in letting Neil's true artistry shine through. We can easily forgive minor flubs or weaker songs because we're seeing our hero in full authentic glory. That being said, to me, an artists body of work is what's officially released, and that's the document to be "judged" and discussed. Both have their places, but they're two different discussions...

The Monsanto album isn't as bad as I initially thought, but it's still quite below average to me. Years from now, it's what the legacy will be, not the tour (unless Neil releases a killer live tour cd which I'd love to see/hear).

The Everbody's Rockin/Trans tour is one of my personal all-time favorites, but those albums are another story when discussing Neil's overall body of work. Ultimately, the Monsanto album will be in the same category as a willfully odd, eccentric, unpolished piece of work.

I feel that POTR was the real positive aspect of the album, and their presence on the tour seemed to reinvigorate Neil from what I've heard.

Take my advice
Don't listen to me

At 9/09/2015 10:39:00 AM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

@ Paul: Well said. Bemusement is the perfect word for it. I've occasionally said "disingenuous" but that's a little too harsh..., but still sort of in the same neighborhood.

At 9/09/2015 10:58:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@SONY - "CSNY is history, POTR the future." well put

@Paul - agree, certainly not as angry as LWW. Or Ohio days angry. With age ... mellowness comes.

@TopangaDaze - disagree. Yes, it seems that many Neil fans value the concert experience over the album/recording. But with Neil that's a valid position.

We've been putting forth Greendale as Exhibit A of this debate for some time now. (See The Inconvenient Truth of Greendale.)

As you note, Everbody's Rockin/Trans tour is vastly different in concert vs. albums.

What we'd like to see out on the West Coast leg is more "theatrics" beyond the opening seed planting scene and the cropdusters as a transition from acoustic to electric.

At 9/09/2015 11:15:00 AM, Blogger TOM said...


NO band of Neil's has been better live.

At 9/09/2015 12:20:00 PM, Blogger Alan's Archives said...

Hello! I'm the original reviewer over at Alan's Album Archives and have just discovered Thrasher's Wheat has very kindly linked to my post!

Thankyou for all the comments.

I must admit that no I haven't seen Promise Of The Real live and yes I could well believe that they would change my mind, the way that so many other Neil Young live bands have in the past - goodness knows enough have done that over the years! Until they release a record of the tour though (and goodness knows if they ever will or not - I can never guess which tours Neil will choose to turn into live albums!) I'm trying to limit my reviews to just the records, as those are what we all have access to as a document of each Neil Young era - I've seen Neil in concert far less than most of you probably have (He doesn't tour the UK that often for a start!) so my comparing tours would be a bit unfair, simply because there's so many I haven't heard (or have only heard on muffled bootlegs!) At least the records are an even playing field that everyone who reads my site in any era will get to know.

If you've come to my site straight to this review you might not know that I am, first and foremost, a CSN/Y fan rather than a purist Neil Young fan. I respect all sides of Neil's art and love almost all of it (though Greendale is a struggle!) but CSNY are a natural reference point to me as a sign of what a great band ought to be, truthful and righteous and courageous. I have always felt that this band have so much more to give the world, even if they haven't given it for a while, and I long for a last great CSNY record that I fear might not come now given recent rifts between Neil and Crosby, so that's more what I was trying to say. It does make perfect sense for Neil to record an album about modern problems with a modern band, but as a CSNY fan I think quite a few Neil Young albums would be better as CSNY ones! While clearly CSN had their best days behind them a long time ago, they still make some wonderful music together and apart to my ears: I loved 'After The Storm' and the CPR albums and Nash's 'Songs For Survivors' even more than some of the Neil Young albums of the past twenty years. Though I'm closer in age to 'Promise Of The Real' (I'm 33!) for me their songs are still relevant to my times too, of all eras.

No disrespect meant to The Promise of The Real - of all Neil's bands they have the most potential to be the 'next' CSNY and if Neil won't go back to the mothership I hope he stays with them as I agree, they are the sound of the future and what Neil needs now. But why have a second CSNY when the first is still there, with all the original members still alive and still making (occasionally) great music? I know to many fans they're an anachronism and their standing has undoubtedly slipped, but to me we need CSNY more than we ever have and even a diluted CSNY still have more power than most bands I think, even Promise Of The Real for me (though again if they ever do a live album I reserve the right to change my mind!)

And yes Paul - 'bemusement' is a better word than 'angry' now I think about it. I might go back and change that now! I meant 'angry' compared to the even mellower Neil Young albums of recent years ('Storytone' and 'A Letter Home' are the definition of mellow!) rather than 'Ohio' or even 'Rockin' In The Free World'. Neil sounds more resigned to doing his duty by making these points now than thinking that a song 'can change the world'.

Anyway, I love nothing more than discussing points with fellow fans - thankyou for taking the time to read my work and thankyou to Thresher's Wheat for including it! A peaceful Neil Young-filled day to you all! 8>)

At 9/09/2015 01:19:00 PM, Blogger The Zuma Band said...


Thanks for providing context for your perspective. I'm totally in the NY camp. Though I do appreciate what CSN, and later &Y, brought to music, I've always felt that in many ways they (CSN) sat on and squandered their own musical legacy and talents, while Neil Young continued his impulsive, erratic, and always determined explorations. I think they peaked in the early 70s and just coasted down hill since. There is no way they can physically reach the peaks that their wonderful harmonies could then. I wouldn't expect that of any musician 40 years later, and after all the years of drugs and drink even less so. Crosby is just lucky to be alive, thanks to Neil Young. I see why you would like them to do the Monsanto material with NY, but, aside from the brouhaha with Crosby, NY has to feel he's "been there, done that" with the LWW material, and so he has moved on. In doing so he is being completely true to form.

"Greendale", btw, is one of my favorite albums, but for very personal reasons. We all hear and experience through our own subjective filters.

At 9/09/2015 02:23:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

While Neil and Steven seem to still be good friends, I wouldn't go see any incarnation with Stills in it. He can play, but he can barely sing any more, much less speak without sounding heavy tongued, I'm not sure why but I haven't heard anything recent from him that bears the greatness he had a while ago. Saw Nash a few weeks back, his voice is still fine, Crosby I suspect as well according to reports. CSN have each stated in the past that Neil is a greater force than the 3 of them put together. I believe that still. Though I didn't run out for a letter home or storytone, Monsanto and Psych Pill demonstrate what he's got left when he reaches for it all.

At 9/09/2015 05:16:00 PM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

CSN are playing on QM2 Crossing the Atlantic - can't see Neil evey playing with them again. Look at their record together American Dream & Looking Forward both dreadful. Ain't doing if for Cunard. I'd rather have Neil trying (and failing ) to make great records than listen to his smugness Graham Nash.

At 9/09/2015 07:17:00 PM, Blogger Alan's Archives said...

Zuma Band - thanks for your reply!

There's a part of me that agrees with you: CSN have never fulfilled their potential and yes I absolutely see why Neil might not want to work with them again and isn't 'going back to Woodstock for a while'. (Rust Never Sleeps, and all that). I totally get where you're coming from and might even be tempted to dig out 'Greendale' again to see what I missed! But I still think the old machine just needs a bit of wd40 and a service and it can still deliver. I can still hear so much potential for CSN, maybe even CSN/Y if Neil's in the right mood at the right time. Perhaps I've been blinded by half-returns to form too much or a bit of hippie hope, but I still think that they're proven geniuses - flawed and diluted geniuses maybe but still geniuses. The Promise of the real are only a promise so far after one album maybe? Anyway, you've hit the nail on the head - we are all looking for our own things. I write my reviews so fans can see another perspective - I'd never claim to be 'right' on something as subjective as music. Neil will do what he wants anyway, no matter what any of us want! Anyway good fun talking to you!

As for Stills his voice has certainly gone but the guitar playing is still there. That together with Crosby and Nash's voices are still a winning combination for me - but hey I'll probably be saying the same thing about Promise Of The Real if they last long enough! I do hear a lot of fans moaning about Nash's smugness which I've never really seen, but all I can say is if I still sounded that good I'd be pretty smug too! 8>)

At 9/09/2015 07:34:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...


Thanks for sharing your views re: CSN/Y, etc. I think most of us here tend to have a Neil "arrogance" and look down slightly on CSN. In our world, Neil's the seeker, the doubter, the nitroglycerin laced restless ball of energy that needs to bounce from star to star. Sure he's wildly erratic, but he's almost always curiously interesting whether we like what he's doing or not.

CSN on the other hand have always seemed fairly content within their musical family tree and don't really try to challenge themselves or their audience in too many ways. At times I've wished Neil was a little more like CSN in that desire to please fans, but overall, Neil's boundary pushing has kept us engaged as a fan base, though regrettably we're getting smaller in numbers.

CSN doesn't seem to foster as many fanatical fans, but they probably have many more casual fans than Neil does. They still have the overall name recognition, and most of the world still primarily knows Neil through CSN, so their legacies will always be linked. Also, I still think they'll do something together again down the road when Neil realizes a few things, though I'm not sure what those "things" are...

"Leave us Helpless, Helpless, Helpless"

At 9/09/2015 07:49:00 PM, Blogger Alan's Archives said...

Topanga - Well said! I do wish CSN were a little more like Neil sometimes too, as well as vice versa, although they do still surprise me more than some other bands of their generation (Stills' rap song on 'Looking Forward' for instance, or the CPR albums, or Nash's 'Liar's Nightmare' in recent years); there just hasn't been enough for a full album of their stuff and they need their stuff to appeal to so many people whereas Neil sells enough copies not to care. There's just something about those harmonies and having three voices going in three directions but all saying the same thing in harmony that works so well for me, trebling the impact a 'normal' writer would have when they all get together and are on it at the same time. Even Neil only seems to explore each of his characters one by one these days which is a shame - I long for him to do another 'Freedom' so we can hear so many sides of him all at once. I do hope they do something together again one day - I'd hate for their legacy to end with 'Looking Forward', although I could live with the 'CSNY '74' box as a postscript! Thanks for chatting! 8>)

At 9/09/2015 10:58:00 PM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

All well balanced comments.

CSN legacy? So that's as below:

CSN -debut
Deja Vu
Wind On The Water (CN)

The cupboard is bare.I hear Nash promoting his song writing - where's the evidence?

In 30 years 3-4 songs!

Neil will never record again with them (not only because of the Hannah stance) but because he doesn't need them - only needed them around 1970. 4 Way Street was their prime.

At 9/10/2015 12:38:00 AM, Blogger Alan's Archives said...

Andy - I'm beginning to get the feeling I'm a lone voice on this site but I do have to stick up for some of the CSN canon! The run of records Stills had from his debut record through to the Manassas debut right up to 'Stills' in 1975 is unbeaten for me as a writer and performer. Crosby and Nash have been patchier but their early solo and joint work is impressive too (agree with you re Wind On The Water), and even more recently the trio album 'After The Storm' and the CPR albums could hold their own with Neil's from the same period I thought. Or maybe that's just me.

The problem is that Neil has always released so much quality material that you can overlook the odd bad song that doesn't quite work and appreciate it as breaking new ground. CSN release so little that they don't have that same luxury and do seem more afraid to stretch themselves, which is a problem when you have less showcases to prove what you can really do. I do wish they'd done more, together or apart, though Stills' 'Man Alive' record was the only one I thought was really bad. Neil got lucky with Reprise sticking by him and giving him more freedom - I wonder what might have happened if he'd stuck with Atlantic and been sacked before the end of the doom trilogy?! I would have been very interested to see where CSN's legacy might have gone if they'd ever finished their 'covers' album with Rick Rubin too, but sadly we will probably never know! Anyway, always interesting to speculate and debate these things! 8>)

At 9/10/2015 02:00:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

Alan, totally agree Stills 67-73 was a man alive. The Manassas double is a career defining record the 4 sides showing the depth of his writing and playing - dare I say it but it's better than any Neil record ? I can't over look some of Neil's below par stuff which there's been a stack full of late -Storytone is a stinker.

The point that sticks with CSN is Mr Nash when he talks about their songwriting he has this view that they still write relevant songs - they haven't for 30 years.

You maybe pushing the boat out with Stills (75) with Donnie Dacus - 40 years ago that was a great indicator that Stills was lost (drink & drugs). Yet Neil was in his prime around the mid 70s.

CSN's legacy will always be about the CSN debut which was Stills (Captain Manyhands).

At 9/10/2015 09:32:00 AM, Blogger TOM said...

" I got bored and left them there,
they were just dead weight to me...

Better down the road without that load..."

At 9/10/2015 10:21:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Alan - Thanks so much for taking the time to drop by and politely explain and elaborate.

Our followup is here @
Comment of the Moment: POTR & CSNY .

Thanks to all!

At 9/10/2015 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Alan's Archives said...

Andy - glad to find a fellow Manassas fan!

ThrasherWheat - Thanks for having me!

Thankyou to everyone for the chat!

Pleased to meet you all. 8>)

At 9/10/2015 01:30:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Good news from France

Monsanto Guilty on trial !
Le groupe Monsanto condamné en appel pour la toxicité d'un herbicide

Le groupe Monsanto, géant américain des pesticides, a été condamné jeudi en appel à Lyon pour l'intoxication d'un agriculteur français avec un herbicide pour le maïs, le Lasso.


Le groupe avait été reconnu "responsable" en première instance en 2012 de l'intoxication de Paul François en 2004 et condamné à "indemniser entièrement" le céréalier charentais, partiellement handicapé.

Paul François a subi de graves troubles neurologiques. Il se bat pour faire reconnaître en France la toxicité de ces produits.
Le Lasso est interdit de vente en France depuis 2007. Son retrait du marché était intervenu précédemment dans plusieurs pays, comme le Canada, la Belgique ou la Grande-Bretagne.


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