— -- intro: This week, Neil Young rages against corporate greed, R&B singer Miguel gets truly funky, nineties apocalyptic grunge act Failure return with their first album in 19 years, rapper Vince Staples releases his debut full-length, Matt Pond PA go in a more commercial direction on their first album in five years, indie rockers Good Old War drop a new album and buzz-band X Ambassadors release their long-awaited proper debut. We have a lot of new music to cover this holiday weekend.
quicklist: 1title: Neil Young & Promise Of The Real’s “The Monsanto Years” ***text: Neil Young has had a prolific, if not uneven last few years. At his best, his recent albums have added texture and nuance to his latter-day discography. Go listen to 2010’s woefully under-rated and excellent “Le Noise,” if you want proof. But he’s also had a few clunkers, like that album’s slapdash follow-up of traditional covers, “Americana” or last year’s “Storytone” which generally suffered from weak writing.
“The Monsanto Years,” named after the highly controversial agrochemical company, finds Young as his pointiest and most political. He’s blunt and to the point here. The lyrics are more about his message than they are about artistic expression. This can make some of these songs a bit awkward and to be honest could make his message a bit heavy-handed even to people who agree with his observations about corporate greed and corruption.
This is an album of environmental rage and frustration. It is an album made with drive and purpose. Usually, this can lead to some of Young’s better work. His 2006 album, “Living With War,” for instance is as much a protest record of its time as any politically-driven record of the sixties. That same spirit is here, but it is somehow bogged down.
"People Want To Hear About Love” is a decent song about how people rather listen to bland songs about love than they do about pollution, environmental destruction, the loss of personal rights, etc. It’s a valid point. People rather spend time with the shiny distraction than focus on the impending disaster if given a choice. While this would sound better delivered in a less straight-forward way, it wouldn’t get Young’s point across in quite the same way. He wants his message to be a clear as possible. So if this album is very much on the noise, it is by that way by design as Young sings a chorus of “Too big to fail” on “Big Box” or goes against a coffee giant we all know on the cleverly-titled, “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop.”
On the whole, this is album-length thesis against GMOs, but on top of the message comes some pretty decent guitar work. What this album lacks in nuance, it nearly makes up for in riffs. While the time for lyrical subtlety has passed, that doesn’t mean that Young doesn’t want to make the album catchy and bouncy in the process.
The deluxe version of the album comes packaged with a DVD, showcasing an hour-long film about the making of the record. The live performances captured on film somehow have a little more impact than they do on disc. This is far from one of Young’s classics, but it is a good Young record in the way that it has a clear purpose. Some listeners may find this album a tad weighty and the people who will dig it will probably leave Young essentially preaching to the choir, but it is refreshing to know that in 2015, Young has not lost his protesting spirit.
“A New Day For Love” This song has an admittedly phoned-in title, but it showcases some of Young’s best guitar and melody work on the record.
“Workin’ Man” This ode to farmers having to work and deal with Monsanto has the straight-forward, classic country blues feeling of some of Neil Young’s more classic work.
“If I Don’t Know” This again recalls some of the best elements of classic Young while slightly muting this album’s overall political intensions. It still mentions signature themes heard throughout the collection, thus keeping the message cohesive.