Neil Young: The Monsanto Years

review young x1 cong

Reviews of this are mixed and we’d guess are split by age: people who know enough to understand how the Great Vampire Squid of Goldman Sachs infiltrates government on both sides of the Atlantic will find it much more satisfying than people who don’t know as much, and think it all a little far-fetched. (Doubters: you don’t have to trawl wacky sites on the internet, just read Private Eye).

This is Young’s rant against big business and the fact that corporate execs often end up with jobs in government influencing policy in favour of their past employers (and elected officials who do “good work” often land plum jobs in the same companies). Young also champions farmers and has warned about the abuse of the planet.

Indeed, he helped launch Farm Aid in 1985, raising money for family farmers, joined by Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp. This album is some sort of extension of that — he’s roped in Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah, and the former’s band Promise Of The Real, who obviously grew up listening to Crazy Horse. Micah helps out with the cover art.

Still: the question is, should you buy it and for NY fans and that’s probably a yes. It sounds like Neil pitched up with some ideas and lyrics and banged them out pretty quickly, but this means it has a nice ramshackle charm; Promise Of The Real are like a trainee Crazy Horse.

The songs are a bit Neil Young doing a Neil Young impression: they contain all the elements of his great songs, except not quite as good; whether they will grow to be great is a point only time will tell. Some are slightly duff: making whistling the centre of tune rarely works, for a start.

Opener A New Day For Love is strong, as Young sings about it being a good day for the planet and a bad one for doing nothing.

Wolf Moon is a Harvest-style tribute to nature addressed to Mother Earth — there are “less fish / swimming in your ocean” (should be “fewer”, Neil) and “Old ice / Floating on your seas”, while Gaia still holds “against the plundering”.
People Want To Hear About Love addresses the fact that people don’t want to hear about the topics Neil is addressing: “Don’t want to talk about the Chevron millions / Going to the pipeline politicians” is the opening line — Barack Obama recently vetoed the XL pipeline bill, to carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska. It’s a decent tune, though you feel it’s a bit early in the album, perhaps an acknowledgment that some weaker songs follow.

Pipeline politicians? “It’s extremely disappointing that President Obama vetoed a bipartisan bill that would support thousands of good jobs . . . (he) has yielded to powerful special interests,” said Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, whose two biggest backers are the Blackstone Group and Goldman Sachs.

House speaker John Boehner — whose big sponsors include Murray Energy, First Energy Corp and American Electric Power — called the veto a “national embarrassment.”

Talking of Goldman Sachs (which reportedly helped the Greek government mask the true facts concerning its national debt, and received bail-outs of $12.9bn and $10bn before setting aside $11.4bn for employee bonuses in the first half of 2009), Big Box sees Young rail against businesses that are “Too big to fail / Too rich to fail”.

A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop is a more pedestrian bluesy tune that attacks Monsanto and Starbucks for using GMO products, in the light of the companies’ efforts to sue Vermont for legislation that will force companies to label GMOs — Vermont will require labelling of all foods containing genetically modified ingredients by 1st July, 2016. In fact, Starbucks says it did not take legal action itself, but is an affiliate of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which did. Monsanto is also an affiliate. Young probably knows this but sees image-conscious Starbucks as a weak point in the case.

Workin’ Man reflects on how farming used to be performed by working men whereas now men in suits own the seeds and can dictate what goes on. Rules Of Change is a weaker song, about a more abstract topic, Young singing about sacred seed and people running free. Blathery lyrics, sub-standard song.

But we could go on, and Young fans expect that by now from a man who produces so much fresh music. On the whole: a thumbs up to Neil.

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