Rob Galgano reports in The Great Leap Forward that Neil Young’s new album Living With War is in the can and may come out this summer. Howie Kline, former label head for Reprise talks about having heard it. It will be interesting to hear this album as it sounds like Neil getting back to business. This is an anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war album being described as “Metal Folk,” I guess.
Rob comments in his post that Neil’s work has been “spotty as of late.” I think that is a bit of an understatement. I was a rabid Neil fan for a while in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I remember seeing Neil play the first Farm Aid on Television and he did “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” and “Heart of Gold” among other songs. Prior to seeing that performance, the only Neil Young I really knew was “Heart of Gold” and that was a song that I always loved. I went out and purchased Rust Never Sleeps on cassette and it was in constant rotation in my Firebird. [In retrospect, I am glad that Neil did a solo acoustic set instead of bringing out a band. He was in his “country” period with Old Ways at this time] When Freedom came out, I bought it and immediately wanted to start getting his back catalog. I subscribed to the Neil Young newsletter “Broken Arrow” and joined the Rust@Death mailing list. So, I was immersed in Neil for a while. He released some great albums: The Mirror Ball collaboration with Pearl Jam, Sleeps With Angels the tribute to Kurt Cobain, Harvest Moon, Ragged Glory, Unplugged… He released Broken Arrow in 1996 which was a pretty good record. I saw him play the Target Center in Minneapolis that tour. Then there was a long dry spell where Neil didn’t release anything until 2000, when he released Silver and Gold. I’m not sure what happened, really. I heard a track from it and wasn’t compelled to purchase it. It was almost like I had lost the momentum of fandom. In 2002 he released Are You Passionate? which had a couple of tracks that sounded pretty decent plus that “Let’s Roll” tribute to the 9/11 Hijacking of the United flight. Still, I wasn’t moved to purchase that. Then he released Greendale in 2003, which was the “rock opera/musical.” Again, I wasn’t moved to purchase it.
I imagine that I was feeling the same way Neil Young fans were feeling in the early-Eighties when he moved to Geffen and released the Everybody’s Rockin’/Trans/Old Ways/Landing on Water cycle. For those unfamiliar with these albums, Neil was trying out other music styles: Rockin’ was a Fifties styled record, Trans was done as an electronic type record with Neil’s vocals done through a vocoder, Old Ways was a country album, Landing on Water was a Crazy Horse record, but not in a typical garagy style– more synthesized sounds. This is the cycle of albums that would eventually prompt David Geffen to try and sue Neil for not sounding like himself and sabotaging the sales of those records. Neil Young is known as a guy who re-invents himself periodically, and then seems to slide into the Crazy Horse plus Old Black (his Les Paul) or into a Harvest/Harvest Moon mode.
So, Neil is diagnosed with a brain aneurysm in early 2005 and decides he wants to do an album that may very well be his last. He records Prairie Wind, an album that seems to be refreshingly footed in the folk leanings Neil has. All of the songs appear to deal with mortality and looking back on his life. Prairie Wind might be the most directly personal work that Neil has created thus far. He survives the surgery and is all over television promoting this work, including an unheard of week stint on Conan O’Brien. This is the album I purchased with a sigh of relief.
It sounds like Neil might be re-inventing himself a bit for this next album, but really, I’m sure it will still be Neil Young.