Neil Young: The Monsanto Years

Neil Young hits the equilibrium between songwriting and performance best when he brings his heart to the table through rebellion.

Neil Young

The Monsanto Years

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2015-06-29
UK Release Date: 2015-06-29

“It’s a bad day to do nothin’ / with so many people needin’ our help,” Neil Young obstreperously verbalizes within the opening moments of intro track “New Day For Love”, “to keep their lands away from the greedy / who only plunder for themselves.” A bellowing call to arms, the roots rock-ridden number evokes a rebellious combativeness reminiscent of Living with War alongside the same earnest zeal crafted across bygone eras like 1988's This Note’s for You. This time, though, his focus is more fine-tuned as he’s crafted an entire body of work in protest of agricultural corporation Monsanto and the genetically modified organisms that come with it. Young once again wears his politics on his sleeve here -- passionately, cerebrally so -- and in doing so raises a strong voice against corporate agricultural procedures at large. Whether or not the message here is your bag, the Farm Aid vet goes above and beyond in developing a straightforward rebel yell against one of the generation’s biggest, and currently somewhat overlooked, topics of debate.

As much as it seems a little funny at first to develop a whole album around the subject, shining a light on environmental politics and offering a stand to really dig in and depict its importance, Young once again weaves wonders with eagle-eyed conviction. Entertainingly enough, Young has mustered up enough foresight into this potential issue with songs like “People Wanna Hear About Love”, a rollicking rocker that’s central theme is centered around just what its title implies: listeners are more enticed by plebeian pop love songs than they are about tracks that may call for an even greater universal purpose. The days of protest in songs are long over compared to the 1960s and 1970s era in which artists like Young, Dylan, and Cash strived, and the way that Young so forthrightly attacks this fact with a barrage of real issues, like global warming, war crimes, and autism is as sardonic as it is true. The country-rock riff-laden closing track “If I Don’t Know” follows a similar theme, with Young offering a hefty amount of certitude on a platter as he offers a monody to “Veins, Earth’s blood".

Elsewhere, fans of Young in his prime will find “Wolf Moon” to especially be a treat for the ears with its relaxed, strummy acoustic folk vibe, complete with light mandolin-accentuated cadences to set the mood as Young laments over the aforementioned, very real issue of global warming and how it relates to actions taken by Monsanto and similar companies. That and “Big Box” are probably the two most sonically pleasing tracks on offer here, with the latter featuring dirty guitar riffs as the epicenter of its melodic activity as Young and a crew of soulful backing compadres bemoan over big-time corporations like Monsanto that seem far too large to ever crumble even under the pressure of protest, or to ever be bothered by the government because of the money that “flows free from the sky".

The topic at hand may have been considerably altered compared to past works, but this is the gritty, no-nonsense Young of old at work having made his most compelling record since 2010's Le Noise, and one of his most important. Young hits the equilibrium between songwriting and performance best when he brings his heart to the table through rebellion, and these nine tracks geared towards environmental ignorance at large do the trick.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.