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Living with War (Reprise)
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
As I sit here, I find myself on neilyoung.com
listening to a stream of Young’s new album, Living
with War. The buzz behind this album has swirled at
a rate not seen for a Neil Young record in ages.
Right-wing pundits are calling him a traitor. Left-
wing hopefuls are calling him a savior. Some
criticize the fact that he had the nerve to be born in
Canada. Some call him a true American — an
immigrant who has called this country home for
more than 40 years, with an American wife and
Most of that doesn’t register too deeply for me. The
Right are desperately out of touch and the Left have
stumbled far too often. As for American or not an
American … please. None of that matters. In this
country or outside of it, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that the nation
is a mess — that there’s a reason the United States are hated around the globe.
No, what matters to me is what I’m hearing. And what I’m hearing is the best
damn Neil Young album in more than a decade. The lyrics spit and bite, the guitar
tone recalls the fantastic Ragged Glory era. The songs carry weight, the tunes
thrash, the voices soar. This is one of his best albums in years, period.
A few months ago, I had the not-so-good fortune to review Young’s Prairie Wind.
It’s safe to say that I’m a Young fanatic, and listening to his last album was a
sobering experience. For an artist as prolific and daring and inventive as Young,
Prairie Wind was just … boring. Sure, it was inoffensive and nice enough, and was
recorded quickly in the aftermath of a serious health scare, but it really didn’t hold
up beyond the first listen. It received comparisons to Harvest and Comes a Time,
but it was nowhere near the equal of either. It sounded like an album made for the
sake of making another album, as if Young had finally grown comfortable in his
own skin, within his own talents.
Neil Young’s Living with War can be heard streaming at neilyoung.com. It will be available at digital retailers on
May 2 and in stores on May 8.
This is no longer the case.
Young waved his flag high in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, recording the frightening ode to flight 93,
“Let’s Roll,” and reuniting Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for a cross-country tour where Young took center stage.
Those shows were not a collaboration of equals, those shows were Young selling his own message of
patriotism through the vehicle of his most famous musical partners.
Time passes. Young releases Are You Passionate, backed by Booker T. & the MG’s, and it has its share of solid
moments. Greendale, the tale of a California family struggling through a post 9/11 world, was next, and it was
here where Young’s disapproval of President Bush’s War first started to shine — during the Greendale shows,
an image of a ClearChannel billboard displaying the phrase “SUPPORT OUR WAR” was stark enough to cut
through the lines.
And now, finally, Neil has had enough. Tired of waiting for a younger voice to rise up above the din of Fall Out Boy
and iPod commercials, Young has worked himself into a fury that hasn’t been seen since 1989’s Freedom.
Basically, Neil is pissed off, and he’s always at his best when he feels backed into a corner.
So here is where the shock comes in. Neil Young, who sang “Imagine” at the Tribute to America telethon in
2001, who sang “Let’s Roll,” who backed ending terrorism publicly, has switched sides, so to speak, on a new
But this shouldn’t be shocking, not in the least. Young has made his best work twisting and turning in the face of
public perception, and this is just another spin in another direction. Even musically speaking, this is new
territory. Young is fronting a power trio aided by a trumpet and a 100-voice choir, definitely a first in Young’s deep
Young teamed up with producer Niko Bolas for this effort, who he last worked with on the speaker-blowing
efforts of Freedom and Eldorado. Through the first guitar licks of “After the Garden,” the first sounds of Young’s
voice backed by the choir and the genuinely moving closing number, “America the Beautiful,” the listener is
bombarded with some of the best music Young has ever made. There are moments on the album where
Young’s voice cracks under the weight of the 12-hour session that produced it, which lends it a sense of realism
and restlessness. 60 years young, Neil has notched another hole in his ever-long belt. He’s made an album that
will challenge listeners and peers, an album that should hold up years after the conflicts which inspired it have
And he’s done it with his own convictions flaring, with his feelings bare and uncompromising.
When asked on CNN what “Let’s Impeach the President” was about, Young responded in his own terse, clever
“Well, I think the song pretty well follows the title. It’s a long song.”
And when asked about capitalizing on the growing anti-Bush feeling sweeping the country, Young was quick to
defend his actions.
“I’ve been making records for 40 years; some of them sell a lot, some of them don’t sell any. I’m not concerned
with selling records. This is about getting a message out, about empowering people by giving them a voice.”
He has taken his own steps to ensure everyone has their voice by proudly and fearlessly expressing his own.
This is certainly Neil Young’s voice. This is Neil Young, angry as hell, and he has something to say.
And thank God for that.