Neil Young: Living With War

Neil Young: Living With War

B

Neil Young

Album: Living With War
Label: Reprise

An album written and recorded in a heat, designed to let loose Neil Young's righteous indignation as quickly as possible, Living With War is pretty much what its title and origins suggest: an angry shout against the war in Iraq in particular, and the Bush administration in general. It's a blunt instrument of an album that will probably end up as a footnote in Young's career. With few exceptions, Young's own "Ohio" being one of them, moment-specific protest music tends to dry up and blow away. But that's for the future. For now, Living With War accomplishes exactly what it sets out to accomplish, loudly.

It doesn't feature much subtlety, least of all on "Let's Impeach The President." A choir of a hundred voices and some damning George W. Bush sound samples drive the point home against the album's signature fuzzed-out, garage-rock sound. It's eyebrow-raising, in a lefty bumper-sticker way, but the album's best moments find Young operating with a bit more finesse. "After The Garden" imagines a paradise without the need for politicians or haircuts—or is that a post-apocalyptic life he's describing? In "Flags Of Freedom," young men march to war through a small town where the president's image flickers on flat-screen TVs, a concise bit of imagery to sum up the national moment.

Young is better at using illustrations to get at bigger political points than he is at talking politics directly. The lyric sheet to "Lookin' For A Leader" reads like a dashed-off Internet post ("Maybe it's Colin Powell / To right what he's done wrong"), and anyone betting that Young would let Bush's "Mission Accomplished" gaffe pass without notice would end up losing money. But for those who share Young's politics—and only those who share Young's politics—the cumulative effect is powerful. The awkwardness helps give what's ultimately a barely rehearsed barroom rant of an album a quality that Young's targets can never claim: honesty.

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