Published Jun 26, 2015Neil Young is formidable on his 36th studio album, The Monsanto Years, raging against Monsanto, GMO agribusiness, big box stores and Starbucks. He's backed by his Farm Aid buddies, Willie Nelson's sons Lukas and Micah, along with Lukas's bandmates from Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real.
I don't mind Young's righteous side — in fact, in certain doses, I'm all for it. His plainly spoken conviction is intoxicating here backed by a rock and roll band, and The Monsanto Years not only sounds like it would make for a rousing live show, but often sounds like it was ripped straight from the soundboard. You can practically hear smoke coming off the speakers during many of its plentiful fuzzy guitar solos.
Young's walking the line between being heroically laudable and ridiculously laughable here. He's right on in "People Want To Hear" — that we ignore politics in folk music at our peril. But then he extends the Monsanto theme through a whole album rather unnecessarily, rhyming GMO with Monsanto (how convenient that they rhyme!) on the goofily clunky yet endearing "A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop": "I want a cup of coffee but I don't want a GMO," he sings, "I like to start my day off without helping Monsanto."
Young's being preachy, and perhaps someone should tell him where to curtail his thematic projects (like that's likely). But there are some heartfelt, timely protest rockers on here, as well as quieter, gratitude-filled environmental reflections ("Wolf Moon"). It's another album of Neil being Neil, and that's a good thing. (Reprise)