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Album Reviews: Living with War by Neil YoungLet's keep our fingers crossed that the listeners of 2016 will struggle to find the relevance of Neil Young's Living With War and its songs about fraudulent wars, crooked elections, energy crises, and spying, lying, doublespeaking, hugely unpopular presidents. While some of the tunes, like "After the Garden," strike only a general tone of anti-authoritarianism -- one that easily could have been captured during Young's first go-round as a protest singer, circa "Ohio" -- other songs are more ripped-from-the-headlines, referencing the levees in New Orleans and Bush's "mission accomplished" photo-op. Barack Obama is even called out by name (Young seems to think he could lead America out of this mess).
No, intentions are not masked by metaphor, and mission statements are not diluted by abstraction. Young lays it all very plainly on the table, and, unlike some of the punk and rock bands that have also been making fiery political music recently, almost every word is easily comprehensible. As high-profile albums go, it's the most direct middle finger that has been lifted up to Bush & Co. There is a song, after all, called "Let's Impeach the President."
"Impeach" is written as a straight-ahead anthem, and it becomes even more of a rousing, ramshackle sing-along thanks to the audacious addition of a 100-member strong backing choir. This risk pays off again on the reflective title track, which sounds like a hymn set to electric guitar. Living With War benefits tremendously from this sense of community. Young isn't a lone voice in the wilderness here -- he's got the people behind him, and the songs gain strength from numbers. An unplanned album recorded in only nine days, it has the spontaneous feel of an old jazz session. (With all of that said, it would have been okay to have his new friends sit on the sidelines for a few songs; the effect is somewhat muted by the choir's continual presence.)
In recent years, it seemed like Young may have finally drifted away from noise and rough edges, but Living With War marks a triumphant and spirited return to "Rockin' in the Free World" and his similarly loose and electric Mirrorball collaboration with Pearl Jam. There's an emphasis on immediacy, so the hooks are big and the choruses are contagious -- with Young and his guitar, both sounding as fired up and pissed off as ever, snarling right alongside. Even the closing version of "America the Beautiful" sounds more like a wake-up cry than a proud salute. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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