wed 22/05/2024

CD: Neil Young - Peace Trail | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Neil Young - Peace Trail

CD: Neil Young - Peace Trail

Righteous anger but insufficient effort

'In fact, it’s surprising it took as long as four days to record this album'

The 37th studio album from the man dubbed “the godfather of grunge” is raw, down and dirty-sounding – like many of the problems Neil Young grapples with. Recorded over four days at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-la Studios in Malibu with Jim Keltner on drums and Paul Bushnell on bass, this is Young in full-on angry activist mode, “fighting for clean water” and “standing against the evil way”.

The Dakota Pipeline battle – “raging on sacred land” all year – against the construction of an oil pipeline on Standing Rock Sioux territory at Cannonball, is Young’s preoccupation on Peace Trail, though the North Dakota fight between big business and Native Americans protecting their water is emblematic of other fights across the land – fights which are likely to intensify after the Trump inaugural. Some of the songs were previewed at the recent Desert Trip Festival in California, which Young played alongside Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.

As a teacher would say marking your homework: more effort needed

Peace Trail sits alongside The Promise of the Real: Earth, released earlier this year, and The Promise of the Real: Monsanto, his 2015 manifesto against the agribusiness, and there’s no doubting Young’s good intentions. He sings (in “My Pledge”) that he’s “lost in this generation” and indeed this is the sort of album the late, great Phil Ochs would have recorded in the 1960s – but with a great deal more style and finesse. “My New Robot”, a poke at the wired world of card-swiping, passwords, pin numbers and, of course, Amazon – complete with computer squeaks and squawks and an AI voice – closes the CD but doesn’t entice you to press the replay button.

The album sounds like a rehearsal, songs captured on first or second run-through, Keltner and Bushnell trying to get the hang of it all. The title track bowls along well enough and it, and “Can’t Stop Working”, features a guitar solo that takes you back to CSN&Y and “Almost Cut My Hair”. But like “Indian Givers”, the song at the heart of the album, the lyrics are often banal and unfinished-sounding. As a teacher would say marking your homework: more effort needed.

“Behind big money justice always fails,” Young sings at one point. Indeed so, and of course it’s impossible not to agree with the intention behind Peace Trail and to applaud Young’s stand. You just wish the execution were better. In fact, it’s surprising it took as long as four days to record this album. There are some powerful guitar and harmonica riffs but this is a messy outing that is less vital than it ought to be and needs to be at this perilous moment in our history.


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