Review: Neil Young's 'Living With War' is 'one MFer of a protest album'
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Saturday April 22, 2006
Neil Young wants to keep on rockin' the free world.
His new record, Living With War, makes very clear that if the Bush regime is allowed to continue, there may not be a free world to rock for much longer.
On Friday, April 21, 2006, Justice Through Music was invited to a secret preview of the entire CD at Reprise Records Burbank headquarters. At 7:30 pm, a small cadre of people were ushered into a special listening room, and for the next 50 minutes, listen we did.
Let's get one thing out of the way right now: this album rocks. It's post '80s electric Neil Young at his grunge best, and of the 10 cuts on Living With War, the first eight are mostly uptempo rockers. In fact, this may be the 60-year-old Young's most crossover-worthy album yet, since many of the songs should appeal to fans of bands as diverse as Green Day and Pearl Jam and will likely be embraced on campuses across America.
But there's one other tiny thing that makes this record stand out: it is one motherfucker of a protest album. In fact, Living With War may just be the Fahrenheit 9/11 of rock.
The album kicks off with the tight wistful rocker, "After the Garden." Its strong hook sets the tone by hearkening back to Woodstock—remember what we were fighting for in the '60s, folks? It's all been dashed. Next up: "Living With War," a good cut that had toes tapping. But the room really came alive with the third cut, "Restless Consumer," a headbanging indictment of both American consumerism and the manipulation of the public by the corporate media. Young breaks into an almost rap-style rant in the choruses, with the refrain, "We don't need no more lies!" No, we do not.
The fourth cut, "Shock and Awe," skewers our botched "liberation" of Iraq due to hubris and deliberately falsified intel. By this point it is clear Young is not pulling any punches. The lyrics are sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes humorous, sometimes laden with uncomfortable truth.
Cuts 5 and 6, "Families" and "Flags of Freedom" examine the effect of war on us all, and "Flags" stops you dead with this thought-provoking lyric, "Do you think that you believe in yours more than they do theirs somehow?"
But Young kicks out the proverbial jams with the album's centerpiece, "Let's Impeach the President." This song is a blistering, barnstorming indictment of our Commander-in-Thief, and Young borrows a page from Michael Moore here by letting Bush destroy himself with his own words. In the song's midsection, Bush's own recorded contradictory statements are juxtaposed against one another to create an incontrovertible pastiche of lies and contradictions while the background singers chant, "Flip… Flop… Flip… Flop…" Incendiary. The CD is worth buying for this one song alone.
The tone grows wistful again (but with a ray of hope) in "Looking for a Leader," in which Young hopes someone, anyone, will step up to clean out the corruption—"Maybe it's Obama, but he thinks that he's too young… Maybe it's a woman, or a black man after all…" The CD finally downshifts with the tender, slower "Roger and Out," a look back on the "old hippie highway" and the fresh and perhaps naïve ideals of youth. Finally, Young closes with a showstopper—a full choral version of "America the Beautiful," featuring a 100-person choir. No gimmicks here—it is simply a traditional and deeply moving rendition of the song which, after the rest of Living With War, making it quite clear that Young not only loves America, but wants to see it returned to its former glory. Soon.
The really remarkable thing is that the CD captures a live sound like few others do. It really sounds like you're in the room with Young and his 3-piece band as they blaze through the tunes. The album was recorded in a week with minimal overdubs, and this contributes an amazing vitality and urgency to the whole package. The choir and occasional trumpet add zing to an otherwise hard-rockin' bass-guitar-drum assault.
Says Reprise's Dan Rose, "We prefer to let the music speak for itself," and that it does—in volumes. If you're a fan of Young's, buy this. If you're not, consider buying it anyway. Young is saying out loud what most of America is feeling right now and what the corporate media refuses to allow to be said. Rock and roll at its best has always been about rebellion. And just in time, Living With War gives it to us in spades.
For more info on this record, please visit www.neilyoung.com and www.jtmp.org.