With the political climate in the country changing, the old guard is speaking out again. Mr. Young, at the age of 71, put together an album of topical songs ranging from Standing Rock, to hair-triggered policing, to paranoia.
The album was recorded in 4 days with only star sessions men, Jim Keltner on drums and Paul Bushnell on bass to accompany Neil on electric and acoustic guitar and some really nasty harmonica screams. Some of the simplicity and haste leads to weaknesses of the album that is otherwise conceptually sound.
The title track opens the album with a classic Young riff and Neil telling us that he’s not ready to give up; “I’m gonna keep my hand in / Because something new is growin‘. He’s always been a good observer of the now. Like an old bard going from town to town to sing the news, Young accomplishes that by hitting the peace trail. He then tells us “He Can’t Stop (Workin’). It’s a reminder to be vigilante and not to give up.
Both “Indian Giver” and “Show Me” are overtly about the Indigenous People of the US and their battle over land rights and the possibilities of water contamination. The latter’s riff sound a lot like Clapton’s acoustic version of “Layla.” But this isn’t the first time Neil has a borrowed a tune.
“Texas Rangers” and “John Oaks” are both about cops and guns. Musically, “Texas Ranger” is one of the strangest compositions I ever heard by Young. It’s like dissonant acoustic reggae done by the Shaggs. It’s nearly unlistenable.
“Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders” deals with the public paranoia of the “new immigrants.” Young sings,
“I think I know who to blame
It’s all those people with the funny names
Movin’ in to our neighborhood
How can I tell if they’re bad or good.”
“Glass Accident” represents Young’s poetry best, working on two levels. Upon first listen it’s a story of a person on election night, 2016, going to bed with a slight hope of a liberal victory, but he woke up with a broken glass on the floor, with “Too many pieces for me to clean up.”
It is also a good counterpart to Young’s recent divorce, “covered broken pieces of a love dream lingering there/that could do some damage for everyone.” It’s the most realized composition on an album of whose beauty lies in its sparseness, but suffers from it being too quickly pushed out of the studio.
The curmudgeon that is Neil and the need for a more cohesive narrative is prevalent in “My Pledge.” Somehow the connection of the Mayflower, Jimi Hendrix and smart phones doesn’t work (surprise). The crankiness comes across strong when Young sings the lyric:
“Alone with their heads looking in their hands,
Lost in the conversation stare,
Walkin’ with their eyes looking at the screen,
Talkin’ like they were really there.”
But a mention of the history of America doesn’t need to be the bed for Neil to justify his distaste for cell phone.
While the closing number, “My New Robot” starts as a typical acoustic number, it’s second half harkens back to Trans. The new technology in this case is not an area that Young feels at ease. The album ends abruptly with the line, spoken in a computer generated voice, “Based on your habits, Powering off.”
Based on the habits of the populace, maybe this album isn’t for everyone. Neil Yong fans should give it a listen though.