Friday, April 28, 2006


Forever Young: From "Ohio" To Iraq

I'm not really much of a fan of '60s "protest" or hippie music. However, there are notable exceptions.

Crosby, Stills and Nash were never musically interesting until Neil Young hooked up with them (after having worked with Stephen Stills previously in the remarkable Buffalo Springfield). To me, "Ohio" was their crowning achievement, a rare protest song that had a killer hook, a great chorus and a sharp point of view.

Young, of course, has a musical split personaiity switching between hard rock and folky genres (while dabbling in everything from rockabilly to electro-synthesizer sounds -- and even bringing in Pearl Jam as his backing band for 1995's superb Mirrorball).

I've always favored the rocking "Crazy Horse" Young. Well, he's back in a pretty big way. He updates himself for the 21st century with Living With War, an unvarnished
blast at the administration and the Iraq War.

Two things are really noticeable: First, this may be the first album by a mainstream, established, artist that has been released free on the Internet a full three days before it's "official" store-release date (I'm listening to the album as I write this). It can be found
streaming here. But this is a full-fledged Internet invasion, with both a blog site and a MySpace spot devoted to the album.

The second, and more important, thing is that this is, artistically, a surprisingly muscular and lyrically moving album.

Whether one likes Young or not (or agrees with his general politics), what I've heard does more than just make an ideological statement. Living With War is really listenable, filled with great hooks, catchy melodies and the signature Neil Young wailing guitar.

"Political" music, regardless of ideology, is usually pretty bad, because the artist forgets about the music while taking the political stand. Young though has married them perfectly here -- and I hardly endorse its overall political message. "Flags of Freedom" almost brings one to tears, while having a chorus that you'll be humming for months. "Families" is equally poignant. The full choir on closer "America The Beautiful" is heart-stirring. Meanwhile, "Restless Consumer" may actually be the song that explains the conundrum noted in Friday's New York Times article on the
A well-known index of consumer confidence has risen to its highest level in four years, according to the Conference Board, a research company in New York. In the most recent CBS News poll, conducted last month, 55 percent of respondents rated the economy as good, even though 66 percent of Americans said the country was on
the wrong track.
Actually, "Impeach The President" -- which speaks for itself and has caused the most pre-release buzz -- is one of the two that, I don't think will hold up. It works for a couple of spins and has the catchy "flip-flop" hook, but unless one is truly politically wedded to its message, it tires rather quickly. However, the Al Qaeda/Katrina line is pretty snarky. Similarly, "Looking For A Leader" comes off as too much of a rant and is rather forgettable. But, those are the only real stumbles.

It's weirdly ironic that somehow a "George Bush" always tends bring out the best in Neil Young. Two of his finest post-'70s album were Freedom and Ragged Glory -- which both came out during George H. W. Bush's presidency.

UPDATE: I pretty much agree with Mark Leon Goldberg's assessment.

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