Neil Young + Promise Of The Real: The Monsanto Years

themonsantoyearsWell here’s a benefit of Windows Phone (or, as they’re stupidly trying to rebrand it, Microsoft Lumia…NOBODY calls it that). When Neil Young recently went off and pulled all of his music from streaming services, not because of the pay, but because it didn’t sound good enough, he seems to have done it by device, not by service. So while I can’t listen to his albums on Groove Music (which is Microsoft’s stupid rebranding of Xbox Music, which was their stupid rebrand of Zune Music Pass) on iPhone, I can listen to them on Windows Phone. Which, I don’t know, just kind of illustrates that it’s really an anti-fan move, but you know, you’ve got the rights, so whatever.

Young has always been eccentric, but he really seems to have gone off the deep end lately. There’s the streaming services thing, there’s him launching his own PonoPlayer audio device (as much as an audiophile as I am, I don’t think this is destined for success or the right way to try to bring high-end audio to the masses), and now an album where he gets all conspiracy theory in song after song slamming Monsanto and Starbucks and promotes things that, I think, are unproven, like pesticides causing autism.

In fact, in my last post I described this album as an “unhinged polemic.” That may be unfair, but ho boy. I mean, we don’t get a lot of protest music in 2015, maybe a lot less than we should, so I’m kind of glad that Young’s taken that on. But Dylan this ain’t. I feel like he’s just shooting himself in the foot, poetically, by slamming Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Safeway, and Monsantao (the last in many songs) by name. And even beyond that he can’t even phrase his protest as elegantly as a Presidential candidate might in a debate. Take “Big Box” as an example. “People working part-time at Walmart/Never get the benefits for sure/Might not make it to full time at Walmart/Still standing by for the call to work.” Or, if that doesn’t make you cringe, try the explanation of a case of the Grocery Manufacturers Alliance v. State of Vermont in “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop.” I mean, he simultaneously gets super literal and expository while also leaning way too heavily on populist rhetoric that both major parties use vacuously (e.g., “take back our freedom,” “overturn the people’s will”).

And that’s kind of all you need to know about this album, and that’s all that most reviews of this album will tell you. Well, okay, they will probably also tell you that the backing band is Promise Of The Real, which is led by Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson, and that they’re also joined by another son of Willie Nelson, Micah Nelson, and that they all sound stylistically similar to Crazy Horse. But what they won’t tell you, and what Fat Clown is here to rep, is that the songs, while of the milieu that Neil Young can kind of throw out in a few days, are awfully fucking good. And due to that, if you make yourself listen to the album ten times or so, you’re starting to believe in the hippie earnest bullshit of “A New Day For Love” and you raise your fist against those damned lawyers in “Workin’ Man” (though, to be fair, going after Clarence Thomas is kind of a shorcut to my rage-heart).

Listen, poetically, this album clunks along like a terrible high school punk band railing against The Man. But man, in Neil Young’s hands, even those sentiments become something special. The critical landscape is very against this record, but I think when we look back at the man’s catalog, this will fare quite well.

And I’d like to stand here as testament that one of the victors in this anti-corporation manifesto is possibly the ultimate symbol of modern corporations: Microsoft. This album alone sustained my use of a Windows Phone (take that stupid rebranding!) by about a week.

Rating:
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Like: “A New Day For Love,” “People Want To Hear About Love,” “Big Box,” “Workin’ Man,” “Monsanto Years,” “If I Don’t Know”
Meh: “Wolf Moon,” “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop,” “Rules Of Change”
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. A New Day For Love –
  2. Wolf Moon –
  3. People Want To Hear About Love –
  4. Big Box –
  5. A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop –
  6. Workin’ Man –
  7. Rules Of Change –
  8. Monsanto Years –
  9. If I Don’t Know –
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