Shakey returns with his 37th studio album, and as he states on second number ‘Can’t Stop Working’: “It’s bad for the body / But good for the soul”. Amen. 2016 has been an undeniably chaotic year in pretty much every area you cared to look at; politically, digitally, and of course musically. With this in mind, it’s good to know we’ve still got Young, guitar in hand, ready to highlight hypocrisy, promote environmentalism and put the word ‘peace’ in an album title.
Sonically, Neil Young’s latest owes much more to his sun-kissed early efforts; gentle, strummed rhythms intermittently cut with bursts of raw electric wails helping create a timeless, relaxed quality with occasional bite. The Dakota pipeline protest gets immortalised on ‘Indian Givers’, the icon actually spending his 71st birthday protesting and performing at Standing Rock. ‘Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders’ deftly handles America (or indeed the western world’s) increasing xenophobia, Young crowing: “I think I know who to blame / All of those with funny names / Moving into our neighbourhood.”
Such statements might be a bit on the nose, but, hell, this year hasn’t been one for subtlety. ‘My Pledge’ sees Young assessing his age, musing how he’s “lost in this new generation / Left me behind it seems / Listening to the shadow of Jimi Hendrix”, stating that those staring into smartphone screens appear to be an army of lonely souls. This negative view of tech is quite clumsily followed by closer ‘My New Robot’, a real oddity filled with robot voices, confirmation noises, references to Amazon and failed passwords. It’s less Black Mirror, more your granddad ranting about kids today.
While there’s nothing really here to ignite a flame of revolution, or indeed get fists in the air to be honest, ‘Peace Trail’ sees Young doing what comes naturally, soundtracking tumultuous times with some confident and easy songwriting. Just as we saw a rise in politically slanted releases in 2004, let's hope the criticism that millennials are a bunch of apathetic zombies is incorrect and that ‘Peace Trail’ is joined by some more socially conscious material in 2017.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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