Neil Young + Promise of the Real Earth

Neil Young + Promise of the Real Earth
More barn, indeed.
Another in a string of rather startlingly batshit releases from one of popular music's most unlikely superstars, this faux-live double album will likely hold no interest for anyone who isn't already along for the ride. And even for fans open to Neil Young's flights of fancy, this thing may well land with a resounding thud.
Earth is a fundamentally frustrating album. A career-spanning collection of Young's environmentalist anthems dating back to the early 1970s, all recorded live with new band Promise of the Real, it could have been a worthy, if inessential, entry in his catalogue (like most of his records over the past 20 years, really). But, since he chose to take his whole Mother Earth theme right over the top, the often terrifically shaggy performances here are supplemented with an overdubbed choir vocalizing random brand names ("Chevron!" "Volkswagen!") and literal BARNYARD ANIMAL NOISES, it's hard to know where to place it in the canon.
Like, Earth is full of turkeys clucking and bees buzzing and horses whinnying and all manner of whatnot. It's deeply strange, and generally irritating, since Young and his band have found a loose, jammy groove in recent years, and these performances are pretty great otherwise. Sans-fauna, this would rank as Young's best non-archival live record since 1997's Year of The Horse. The music really should have been left to stand on its own.
Still, for those of us who've been following his twisting career for decades, for a lifetime, it's hard to complain too vociferously when Neil Young makes yet another daft musical statement. It's just what he does. Sometimes it works; often it doesn't. This kind of barn-based rock'n'roll probably won't catch on, but it feels like he tried. After 50 years and 40-plus albums, what more can we ask? (Warner)