Neil Young: The Monsanto Years

Neil Young
The Monsanto Years
Warner Bros.

“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.

RATING 7 / 10