Neil Young doesn’t just get angry, he gets absolutely livid. Whether it’s his reaction to the Kent State massacre with “Ohio” or his critique of social policies in “Rockin’ in the Free World,” Young has proven time and time again that when he shoves every ounce of his rage into music, powerful songs come out the other end.
But, in recent years, Young hasn’t been able to channel his fury. His most recent protest record, Living with War, a rant against George W. Bush and his decisions about Iraq, lacked the poetry of previous releases, most notably in the song “Let’s Impeach the President.”
Young’s latest album, The Monsanto Years, released Monday, attempts to bring his charisma back with a protest of the agribusiness Monsanto, but his efforts quickly dissolve into a helpless plea.
Young has always been concerned about farmers’ well-being, having founded Farm Aid 30 years ago to help workers avoid financial hardship — but Monsanto, the leading producer of genetically modified seeds, is a whole new beast.
The album’s premise is decent enough, but Young takes it a step too far. He incorporates his disdain for other companies, especially Starbucks, into the mix, citing their role in a lawsuit over GMOs.
Young also attacks Wal-Mart, Chevron, and the controversial nonprofit Citizens United. His focus on Monsanto is one thing, but trying to take on corporate America with one project is a step in the wrong direction.
Although it would be difficult for one record to change an entire industry, Young’s few bright moments on this project have the similar power of his previous hits. “Big Box” specifically has a larger-than-life feeling to it, with Young rallying “When will we take back our freedom, to choose the way we live and die?” “Workin’ Man” provides a more upbeat and definite challenge compared to most songs on the album.
Except for these two songs, the entire record feels exhausted, with Young taking on the role of the tired farmer rather than an external party. Parallels can be drawn to Young’s sloppy style in the late 1970s, especially with the poorly named “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop.” Throughout most of the record, his thoughts are all over the place, making their combined efforts feel lackluster and not worth while.
The entire record makes Young seem to be a passive aggressive complainer rather than someone who takes action. It’s not that the issues Young challenges aren’t important, it’s just that he addresses them in a weary manner that makes listening tiresome.
This entire release asks one big question: Will Young ever produce another truly great album? As the average listener’s attention span becomes shorter every day there is little place in the industry for someone with Young’s style.
This record is getting attention only because Young’s reputation warrants it. The man still has the fire burning inside to challenge norms with his music, but his execution of The Monsanto Years fails to make this one of his classics.
Album: The Monsanto Years