Friday, December 16, 2016

Neil Young 52: Peace Trail

Making albums that by anyone else’s standards would be considered kinda goofy is one thing that keeps Neil Young so interesting after half a century of recording, and it’s also one of his more maddening traits. Peace Trail, written and recorded quickly in a simple trio format, might just be his goofiest project yet. Here we have ten songs, mostly played acoustic, with some electric fuzz and distorted harmonica, to the accompaniment of a muted bass and the inventively percussive Jim Keltner on drums. Sometimes the strumming is straight, while the drums crash around like boxes; other times it’s the song that’s off-kilter. Even the packaging is sloppy, his trademark scribble augmented by a broken typewriter on the back and a standard word processor on the lyrics poster.
The title track has the potential to be a classic, and will likely garner cheers on concerts for years to come. The recording is embellished by his now-trademark pump organ and AutoTuned response vocals. (Used as ironic commentary on Earth, he’s embraced the technology here.) He gives a manifesto of sorts with “Can’t Stop Workin’”, half the length of the previous track but sounding louder, with increasingly dissonant harmonica blasts. “Indian Givers” addresses the 2016 protest of Standing Rock, which was a timely topic on the release date, but now lost among so many other causes. “Show Me” has the potential to be a raucous electric take, being a fairly standard tune, but things get a little more surreal on “Texas Rangers”, which refers not to the baseball team but to law enforcement, delivered in a verse structure with a poetic device (as shown on the lyric sheet poster) that modifies back and forth over a half-step after each verse.
A deceptively straight chord sequence is the setup for “Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders”, which soon becomes something of a rant by a Tea Party advocate that was misinterpreted by some as an anti-Muslim rant. There’s little to be misinterpreted in “John Oaks”, the saga of a modern Johnny Appleseed type whose attempt to speak at a demonstration turns tragic. One of the least penetrable tracks is “My Pledge”, which comes off like the stream of consciousness of someone stuck outside of time, particularly when lines are echoed and AutoTuned. He apparently didn’t notice that “Glass Accident” uses the melody of “Beautiful Bluebird” for an otherwise pleasant if thin allegory about protecting the planet once we’ve noticed something’s gone awry. But nothing could prepare the listener for “My New Robot”, which begins as a love song, then describes in detail the unpacking of item in the title before literally “powering off”.
Peace Trail simply isn’t as intriguing as it is maddening. The closest comparison we can conjure could be side one of Hawks & Doves, but even that sounds tame compared to this program. Some of the rambling in Greendale is echoed, and those harp solos are right off of Sleeps With Angels. Unfortunately, the overall mood is half-assed, the songs seemingly recorded as fast as he could write them, with no editing. But this was the latest state of the Neil, who’s often been compelled to share his thoughts while they’re fresh and while he still can. He probably should’ve waited, but he’d have something else to say soon enough.

Neil Young Peace Trail (2016)—2

3 comments:

  1. Enjoyed this one Wardo.
    Thanks for supporting us over on TW.
    So #56?! Quite a streak you've got going.
    Don't ever quit.

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  2. Hey, if he keeps making albums, I'll review 'em. Even after the power goes out. Thank you Thrasher!

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  3. Like you say, the first song is pretty good. However the rest of this album just gets worse and worse. I will not be listening to this one again. Glass Accident just grates on me. Yet another good review by Wardo. Keep up the good work.

    Bob W.

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