Neil Young, with his unmistakable voice and melodic lyrics, has been a constant staple in American music. But his latest album, ‘Living With War,’ which is wrought with controversy because of its strong political statements, seems to be more of a gimmick than a serious musical effort.
Now, I agree with Young’s politics. I’m antiwar and just as angry with Bush as he is, but the truth is that today’s politics just don’t mix well with music and the lyrics on ‘Living With War’ often come out as sounding quite, well, silly. In fact, if I was a conservative, I’d still buy this album just so I could laugh at it.
For instance, let’s examine the album’s most highly touted song, the blatant ‘Let’s Impeach the President.’ This is a comedic and slightly enjoyable song, but it offers nothing new in terms of thinking about the war and just comes off as too barefaced. Good lyrics need to be subtle, yet fierce in order to truly resonate in the mind, but lines like ‘Let’s impeach the president for lying and leading our country into war’ do not require much thought and just make the song sound stupid.
The track, ‘The Restless Consumer,’ which is a criticism of today’s consumerist attitude and how it leads to apathy, is an interesting title, yet lyrics saying ‘Don’t need no side effects like diarrhea or sexual death’ just cause the track to fall flat on the ground.
‘Lookin’ for a Leader’ expresses the belief that there is a true leader hiding in America who must be found and is my favorite of the album’s political songs but it still doesn’t compare to what Young accomplished in the past.
Here’s what Young is trying to do: because the war in Iraq is beginning to mimic the unfortunate Vietnam conflict, he’s trying to bring back the genre of antiwar folk music that was the common voice for young people in the 1960s and 1970s.
However, he seems to forget that the music from that period expressed much more than simple pacifist statements. This was a generation of people who grew up among the veterans of World War II and thus they were expected to be patriotic and fight for America like their fathers. They were expected to be good and clean-cut, to never question the government.
They realized that these rules were a disguise to mask the horrors of wartime. Therefore, when rebelling against Vietnam, they were also mutinying against their families, against the way of life that they grew up in. This is what ‘protest music’ was about; it represented a powerful, new way of thinking that challenged the conventional catechisms of society.
For the most part, ‘Living With War’ is not strong or introspective, but instead sounds like a simple campaign tune that was penned in five minutes by some publicist.
However, it’s not all this bad, for a few songs on the album do show some thoughtfulness. ‘Roger and Out’ is about a person thinking back on the death of a friend who died in Vietnam. It is an ode to the soldiers of that war, with Young speaking to his dead friend, telling him that he understands the loneliness and fear he must have felt and, whether the war was justified or not, he still died for his country.
The song ‘After the Garden’ has the basic message that when the world is destroyed, we won’t have to live with an unfair government. In other words, the only enjoyment from this album comes from the tracks least covered by the media.
While it’s nice to see Neil Young back with new music, his latest album is mainly a shadow of what he used to be. Don’t expect a powerful melody like ‘Ohio’ to show up on ‘Living With War,’ but instead be prepared for mostly thoughtless songs that do nothing to change or improve the way we listen to music.
Filed Under: A & E