The new Neil Young album Living With War has created a firestorm of controversy, and it isn’t even in record stores yet. The latest word on that seems to suggest a soft release date of May 8, which would put the CD in stores by this Monday or Tuesday — the day most retail outlets adhere to as a rule.
In any event, for those of you who can’t wait, the good news is the album has been available to listen to free, in streaming format, at a number of places on the Internet since last Friday.
Controversy over the lyrical content aside — and we promise to get to that in a minute — Living With War is pretty much your standard, cranked to eleven, grungy Neil Young album. Although the sound here harkens back to classics like Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory, Crazy Horse — the band usually backing Neil on these types of records — is nowhere to be found here.
Instead, Living With War was recorded with a core group of musicians consisting of Young himself on electric guitar, vocals and harmonica; Chad Cromwell on drums; and Rick Rosas on bass. They are occasionally joined by Tommy Bray on trumpet (most notably on the title track and “Shock and Awe”), and a 100-member choir (on “Let’s Impeach The President” and the beautiful, hymn-like version of “America The Beautiful”, which closes the album).
As a result, Living With War is not only the loudest album Neil Young has done since he was backed by Pearl Jam on Mirror Ball — it is also the tightest.
The long extended jams of those records with Crazy Horse are replaced here by ten shorter, more straightforward sounding songs that get directly to the point. But make no mistake, the volume is cranked all the way up — and Neil’s trademark guitar noise with the ever trusty Ol’ Black is dead front and center.
Nothing leaps right out in the same way as Neil Young and Crazy Horse classics “Like A Hurricane” or “Cortez The Killer”, for example. Well, nothing outside of lyrics calling for Bush’s impeachment, anyway. Still, the shorter, more economical approach allows these songs more room to grow on you.
And with lyrics like “Let’s impeach the President for lying,” these songs also pack the far more direct punch that Neil Young clearly intended.
“Let’s Impeach The President”, of course, has drawn the most attention thus far. Neil Young basically rattles off a litany of reasons calling for Bush’s ouster from office ranging from the aforementioned “lying…misleading our country into war” to “highjacking our religion…and using it to get elected.” Basically a faster, more uptempo rewrite of “Powderfinger” (you can practically interchange the line “Let’s Impeach The President for Lyin” for “Shelter Me from the Powder and the Finger”), it ends with Neil exchanging the bitten-off lyrics with a series of Bush sound bites.
On “Shock And Awe,” Neil’s snarling guitar trades off with the military funeral procession like sounds of the trumpet as he recalls “back in the days of mission accomplished” and prior times “when we had a chance to change our mind.”
On “Flags of Freedom,” the chorus is sung almost as a companion piece to another famous protest song with a patriotic twist — Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom.” He even name drops Dylan in the lyrics between a chorus which celebrates “these flags of freedom flying,” while questioning the wisdom of sending a family’s kids off to war. It’s a great touch.
On “Looking For A Leader,” Young yearns for “someone who walks among us and I hope he hears the call.” He then rattles off a list of candidates, including prominent black politicians like Obama and Colin Powell, because “maybe it’s a woman or a black man after all.”
The album closes with “Roger and Out,” which returns Neil Young to “that old hippie highway” he has repeatedly revisited throughout his career in an obligatory moment of nostalgia and reflection that recalls more pensive mid-seventies work like On The Beach. Here, he seems to be saying “Roger And Out” to a fallen comrade. This is followed appropriately enough by the choir’s solemn, reverent, and gorgeous intonation of “America The Beautiful.”
While it would be easy to use the unapologetically anti-Bush tone of the lyrics on Living With War as a flashpoint for debate — indeed, many in the media are already doing just that — it’s an argument which, ultimately, nobody wins.
Some are going to agree with every word Neil Young says on this album, while others are going to lead the charge to ship him back to his native Canada.
For that reason alone, at a time when America is divided by political and cultural ideology like it hasn’t been at any time since the Nixon years, it can be reasonably argued that voices of protest and dissent like Neil Young’s should not only be welcomed — but that they are necessary. If for no other reason than the fact that they remind us of just why soldiers are sent to war to fight for those freedoms we cherish so dearly in the first place.
Freedom of speech is a constitutional guarantee. One which means, among other things, the right to protest or dissent. Whether it be in song or otherwise.
Protest music is as richly American an artform as you’ll find anywhere in the landscape of our country’s history. From the protest songs born in the dust bowls and the union struggles, to the negro spirituals which arose from the cotton fields of the Civil War era.
I personally find it ironic that quite often the loudest voices at home in support of unpopular wars — from Vietnam in the sixties to Iraq in the present day — have also been among the quickest to call for quieting those voices of protest.
Living With War is proof that those voices, which have been somewhat quiet in recent years, are rising once again.
Can I get an “Amen” on that?
Here is the complete track listing for Neil Young’s Living With War:
1. After the Garden
2. Living With War
3. The Restless Consumer
4. Shock and Awe
6. Flags of Freedom
7. Let’s Impeach the President
8. Lookin’ for a Leader
9. Roger and Out
10. America the Beautiful
Below you will find links to everything you will need to check out Living With War:
You can get the latest news on Living With War, as well as listen to the album and read the lyrics at Neil Young’s Official Website.
You can generate a link to your own website or blog for the Living With War streaming album feed. The pop-up code generated should work with most of the main blog sites, but Blogger would not accept the java script for my own blog. It did, however, accept the simple link.
For the latest news and information check on Neil Young’s controversial “Folk Metal Protest” album, check out the Living With War Blog. Our friends at Thrashers Wheat have been covering Neil Young’s every move longer and better than just about anybody on the Internet, and were among the very first to break the Living With War story. You can also find Neil Young on Myspace.
Watch a video of Neil Young discussing Living With War on CNN by clicking the player below:
Now it’s up to you to be the judge.