The Monsanto Years
Neil Young + Promise Of The Real
When Neil Young showed up for the 2013 Farm Aid concert in New York, it was difficult to ignore the singer-songwriter's somewhat agitated state. At the event's morning press conference and more pointedly during his brief solo set, Young pontificated on the state of the union, talking not only about the plight of the American farmer, but GMOs, fracking, the environment, the government and corporations. He stirred the pot again on his 2014 solo album Storytone with "Who's Gonna Stand Up?," a song that addresses GMOs, fracking, the environment, the government and corporations head-on. On The Monsanto Years, his album for 2015, Young churns up dust about these same issues without letting up.
Joined by Willie Nelson's sons Lukas and Micah, alongside Lukas' bandmates in Promise of the Real, The Monsanto Years squares its target on Monsanto, Starbucks, Safeway and every other corporate institution that, in Young's view, puts profits ahead of the environment and well-being of the world's population. Visceral on one hand, sanguine on the other, executed in the same way Young lit into George W. Bush on 2006's Living With War, The Monsanto Years burns, pulls back, crunches, drops in hippie-like aphorisms, and essentially unfolds like any good Neil Young album should. The Nelsons and Promise of the Real skillfully embed themselves in the slots, much like Crazy Horse does, adding fire, rhythm, punch and rock-solid harmonies when the music calls for it. It all starts out innocently enough with "New Day For Love," an infectious mid-tempo opener with a bright melody and chorus. The title and first verse certainly evoke a sense of optimism, but then Young gets right to the point: "It's a bad day to do nothin' / With so many people needing' our help / To keep their lands away from the greedy / Who only plunder for themselves." Straight talk indeed.
There's more "thoughtless plundering" in the otherwise winsome "Wolf Moon," while lines like "don't talk about the Chevron millions going to the pipeline politicians" and "don't say pesticides are causing autistic children" pull no punches in "People Want To Hear About Love," a soulful rocker that mixes venom with a hopeful message. Only a guy like Neil Young can get away with this kind of stuff. "Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop" is a comical, knee-jerk toe-tapper that initially goes after Starbucks for their opposition to Act 120, a law in Vermont that requires manufacturers to label food and other products with genetically modified organisms (GMO). Monsanto, of course, also opposes the law, which goes into effect in 2016. Young saves his vitriol for them by chanting "Monnnnnn-sannnnnn-toooooooo," followed by "Let our farmers grow what they want to grow" and "Mothers want to know what they feed their children." You can bet money the next Farm Aid is going to be a hoot if Young plays this song.
In perhaps one of the album's smoother riff-bound rides with all the makings of a classic, "Rules Of Change" says "Seeds are life it can't be owned…not even by Monsanto," but no where more does the company get skewered than in "Monsanto Years," driven by a groove-filled chord progression that comes close to spoiling the message. Jabs like "Poison-ready they're what the corporation needs, Monsanto" and "Give us this day our daily bread and let us not go with Monsanto, Monsanto" are probably why a Monsanto press release issued in response to The Monsanto Years suggested that love for the music of Neil Young may be on the incline within the company's ranks. Perhaps they could dole out some forgiveness after listening to "If I Don't Know," a simple and humble ode in which Young essentially says he isn't about go away, even if he doesn't know what he's talking about. The bite does simmer as The Monsanto Years winds down, but you can be sure Neil Young's rallying call for a greener, more organic planet without the influence of commerce (including his own) is only gaining steam.
~ Shawn Perry