I stayed up extra late tonight so I could catch the premiere of the web stream of Neil Young’s Living With War over at NeilYoung.com, due for download sale starting May 2nd. Here are my impressions, song by song:
1) After The Garden – This is pure protest power pop Neil Young, with no rough edges removed. It’s beautifully angry.
2) Living With War – At first, I didn’t want to like it. But once it gets into the “Star Spangled Banner”, I suddenly become weepy and angry. Maybe it’s because I stayed up too late.
3) The Restless Consumer – Neil Young sounds strangely like he’s doing a George Bush imitation as he screams, “Don’t need no more lies!” over and over again. I’m a huge Neil fan, but I’m beginning to get peeved at the backng chorus. Towards the end of the song, I start to get what he’s doing — he’s actually playing two characters in the song, espousing both sides of things to expose the stupidity of “The Restless Consumer”. I decide to get up and have a cookie.
4) Shock And Awe – I drop my cookie on the floor and sit motionless. This song is what I have been dying to hear: classic Neil Young at his finest. I live to hear Neil Young’s screaming guitars and harmonies, and this song (which at it’s root is a re-working of “Hey Hey, My My”) is as lyrically brutal as it is beautiful and thought provoking. The first real winner out of the collection.
5) Families – Here’s a song about a soldier off at war, wishing he was home with his family. I think about a friend of mine who is stationed in Iraq and I start to break down a little bit, feeling very prideful and spiteful about this stupid, unnecessary war. Another favorite off the album.
6) Flags Of Freedom – Neil Young’s gift comes from his ability to quickly paint a portrait of a person’s life, nearly like a film. This is one of those songs — a powerful portrait of a family torn apart by a child being sent off to war. I’m actually bawling now, and I just keep getting angrier by the moment. “Today’s the day our younger son is going off to war/Fighting the age old battle we’ve sometimes won before/The flags that fly on main street/Are blowin’ in the wind/These must be the flags of freedom flying.” Indeed.
7) Let’s Impeach The President – Say what you want about Neil Young being an old fogey or being an old codger, he’s got a fucking point and he knows how to turn that into a song. This song is meaningful today, it will be more meaningful, sadly, as time goes on. Americans who voted for George Bush, what were you thinking? This is an appropriate and timely anthem that should have everyone talking.
8) Lookin’ For A Leader – Well, I’m not sure what to say here. Not my favorite song on the record, and not one I’d listen to much. But again, Neil’s right. We’re looking for a leader and he’s not in the house. “Maybe it’s a woman or a black man after all”, he sings. How about a black woman?
9) Roger And Out – Definitely my favorite song on this album. It’s an open letter to a friend and fellow enlistee who was obviously killed in battle. More than that, it’s a bittersweet look at a loss of innocence. It’s the “Long May You Run” of this collection.
10) America The Beautiful – Yes, it’s the song “America, The Beautiful” that, hopefully, you know the words to. Sung acapella by the soul-laden chorus of voices, it’s a perfect cap to the theme of the album.
All in all, I’m going to need a few more listens to the album to really know what I think. But Neil Young, in my opinion, is often at his best when he doesn’t stop to think about what he’s doing. The spontaneity of the album is it’s grace and, at times, it’s undoing. Sure it’s a little cheesy, but do you hear anyone else writing protest songs? We need them, and we don’t have them. One thing I can say after hearing this album: I’m proud of Neil Young for following, as always, the courage of his convictions. Want to hear some classic Neil? Click here to hear his 1972 album Time Fades Away and you’ll quickly see what I mean.