It took us about 20 minutes yesterday to get his web page to load, but once it did we were glad to have persevered: Neil Young's new anti-war set Living With War, which began streaming for free at NeilYoung.com Friday, is a raw, straightforward electric stomper. Sing-along backing vocals are pervasive, a perceptible nod to protest music's populist and folk roots. The record really gets going with "The Restless Consumer", which along with the ballad "Roger And Out" is among the best jams on the record. The former tune's chant of "Don't need no more lies" is particularly affecting. "Families" and "Flags Of Freedom" -- sure they rock a goodly amount, but they are as transparent and direct as their titles (and all the song titles on the record, as a matter of fact). It get's no more direct than "Let's Impeach The President." The obviousness of the music on Living With War does make us long for the days when, lyrically, Young wielded more artifice and offered more impressionist emotive sentiments. Nothing on the new set is as poetic as Mr. Young's perhaps most widely known protest song, "Ohio."
Clearly Young believes that when writing "message music" the message should be blunt. Still, the songs of Living With War sometimes seem a bit artless. Even so, how much "art" do you need when delivering an earnest and stirring a capella version of "America The Beautiful" to round out your album? Young has long demonstrated a philosophy of heart over art, and Living With War is long on heart. The record's message purposely takes precedent over its medium. There is an enlivening loose and free energy to the set that imbues it the feel of a hoot or jam session and makes it an easy listen. How many times you'll listen to it after we are finally rid of Bush remains to be seen. In a perfect world, there would be no need.
Living With War streets May 8. Pre-order it from Barnes & Noble here.