Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Neil Young 55: Earth

Unless it was recorded from a single microphone and presented in mono, any live album that has been mixed prior to release does not present what somebody in the audience heard. A “warning” on the cover of Earth declares that the album contains modified content. That’s not just Neil Young’s comment on GMOs; each of the tracks have been augmented well after the original concert recordings by a choir and copious sound effects—crickets chirping, frogs croaking, ducks quacking, a swarm of bees that might be a chainsaw, car horns—that sometimes seem less ambient than “Weird Al”-inspired. He even throws AutoTune into the mix on a few hilarious occasions. It can be a little distracting while driving, particularly the horns, but it supports Brian Eno’s ambient thesis.
Neil’s thesis, in case you missed it, is that we’re wrecking the planet, and in some ways, Earth presents the arguments better than The Monsanto Years, the album that spawned the tour from which these recordings were taken. Regardless one’s opinion of the sloganeering of that album, the songs got tighter on the road, and were performed better, as displayed by four of the songs included here. (The one new song, “Seed Justice”, is played so angrily and quickly that it unfortunately doesn’t make an immediate impression.)
More than just pummeling his point, in Promise Of The Real, he found a band willing to dig deep into his catalog for some long-neglected tracks rescued from decades-old albums. (Granted, there are countless Neil nuts worldwide who’d be willing to take on that task; this particular rhythm and bass guitarist with harmony capabilities is still waiting for his phone call.) “My Country Home” gains a possessive pronoun but still sounds like Crazy Horse; “Vampire Blues” predicted his obsession with biofuels and electric cars by about 35 years. “Hippie Dream” emerges from possibly his worst album with a lot of guts. “Mother Earth” provides something of an overture for the suite, and “Western Hero” is revealed as a close cousin of “After The Gold Rush” and “Human Highway”.
Editing, or lack thereof, has been a growing concern in the land of Neil since Psychedelic Pill, and Earth is pushed to double-CD capacity by a performance of “Love And Only Love” indexed at 28 minutes. Already ten minutes long in its original incarnation, here it runs to about 15 minutes of exploratory jamming, then devolves into a sizable coda like a less dissonant Arc. (Listen for those four notes from “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.)
Amazingly, Neil has become less predictable in recent years. He hasn’t talked about being clean and sober since before the divorce; maybe Willie’s boys provide too much access to their dad’s private stock. He also doesn’t appear to be slowing down, so who knows where he’ll take us next. (Disclaimer: We don’t have a Pono player, so this summation might well be considered pointless by the auteur. Neil’s second choice for sound reproduction is vinyl, but once records started getting more expensive than CDs, convenience and fear of rendering an album unplayable with use became more important for those of us on a budget. As he well knows, it’s not a perfect world.)

Neil Young + Promise Of The Real Earth (2016)—3

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