Neil Young + Promise of the Real: The Monsanto Years

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Neil Young + Promise of the Real
The Monsanto Years
(Reprise)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

If the idea of having Neil Young bark at you about the evils of Monsanto, Starbucks, Walmart (and other mega corporations) in a get-off-my-lawn voice and approach that makes Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino sound like Dolly Parton, atop ragged glory backing from Crazy Horse wannabees is enticing, well … we have the album for you.

Everyone’s favorite hippie turned old school curmudgeon (except Donald Trump’s), takes his ire towards the titular chemical company, employs Willie Nelson’s son’s band, and grinds through 50 minutes of impressively unvarnished if mostly forgettable rock meant to increase awareness of how big companies like Monsanto are crushing farmers. While the intent is genuine and the message on point, plowing through this is an exercise in endurance that even the Neil Young faithful might find taxing.

Like other Young projects post-2000 brain aneurysm, it feels overwrought, under-baked and tossed together quickly. Some songs on his 36th studio album seem like little more than demos as the players stumble and search for a melody while the tune unwinds. Others like the 8 plus minute “Big Box” find Young spitting out op-ed clichés like “too big to fail” over throbbing, raw, musical support that sounds like other Neil Young tracks, just not as good.

The album’s honorable intentions and important socio-political messages are preaching to the choir since it’s unlikely others will have the stamina to trudge through this musical current events lesson.  Still, there are times when the concept congeals into something worthy of Young’s historic protest past, a la “Ohio.” And with a little more molding, some editing (do we need the whistling or the clunky title of “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop”?) and an honest associate to suggest when Young should tweak some lyrics before committing to a final mix, this might have attracted the wider crossover attention it yearns for. Also, give Young credit for using his legendary status to release this non-commercial project on a major label, something even his Crosby, Stills and Nash peers wouldn’t have been able to pull off.

As it stands, it’s another entry in Young’s bulging catalog that, like Storytone, Greendale, Le Noise and others, you might play once or twice to see what he’s up to, then return to far more listenable classics like Rust Never Sleeps.

What’s next, the fracking years?