“Living With War” (Reprise)
White-hot on the heels of Bruce Springsteen’s savvy invocation of vintage folk and gospel music to stir the pot of political protest, Neil Young looks no further into the past than his morning newspaper for source material on his new album (in stores Tuesday), the most powerfully unequivocal condemnation of the war in Iraq to date by a major pop music figure.
The immediacy of Young’s album dramatically bookends the timeless quality of Springsteen’s “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” collection, and together they create a potent one-two punch.
This album’s boldest track, “Let’s Impeach the President,” opens with a trumpet sounding “Taps” followed by Young leading a chorus of voices practically shouting his lyric: “Let’s impeach the president for lying/Misleading our country into war.”
Young will be accused of a lot of things -- of being a traitor and/or terrorist sympathizer -- but mincing words won’t be among them. The sheer brazenness of this collection is refreshing after years of timidity in the upper echelons of the pop world forged in a debate-stifling environment in which “if you’re not with us, you’re with Al Qaeda.”
The legacy of Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra right up to Operation Iraqi Freedom provides the subtext of Young’s tack here. He draws a line between vehemently disagreeing with the decisions (and ethics) of government leaders and supporting the grunts who are putting their lives on the line because of those decisions.
“Families” captures the dilemma of those who take pride in the commitment of their fathers, mothers and siblings in the military while worrying about their well-being. “Looking for a Leader,” snarling like most of the tracks with distortion-drenched electric guitar work over thundering rock rhythms, yearns for someone of peaceful vision to rise up from the ranks and guide the country in a new direction. The album concludes on an introspective note with “Roger and Out,” about a longtime friend who apparently has passed, leading into an a cappella choral reading of “America the Beautiful.”
At his most artful, Young has shown himself eminently capable of finessing the tenderest aspects of human experience, from such early songs as “I Am a Child” and “Old Man” through his recent, intensely reflective “Prairie Wind” album.
Here, however, his guiding star seems to be the biblical-cum-folk music notion that “to everything there is a season,” and that the troubled times of 2006 call less for a pen and a poem than a bullhorn and a warning cry.
Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent) to one star (poor). Albums reviewed are in stores except as indicated.