Neil Young: The Monsanto Years

Shakey at his most determined on this diatribe against corporate greed.

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Neil Young’s 40th album and sixth this decade finds him in a state of righteously specific ire. The Monsanto of the record’s title is an organisation producing GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). As a result, the old buzzard is pissed.

Last year, rock’s leading eco-warrior protested against the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, D.C. “We’re all children of Mother Earth, and I’m here because I feel we are all threatened by what’s happening as a planet,” he said.

Now he’s got the multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation in his sights, and it has prompted him to wax in similarly lyrical fashion./o:p

With support from The Promise Of The Real, Willie Nelson’s son Lukas’s band, he rock’n’rails against what he sees as the desecration of nature, leaving no doubt regarding his position as the last man standing versus evil big business. And if that sounds both hackneyed and melodramatic, then that’s The Monsanto Years all over.

Over nine tracks, Young consistently makes a drama out of a crisis, stating the bald facts about the situation with a matter-of-factness that would be ridiculous were it not so heartfelt and the musical contexts so frequently alluring.

At various points, Crazy Horse fans will be delighted to know, Young presses what Lukas’s brother Micah, also on hand here, calls the “black hole tornado button”, giving it plenty of Like A Hurricane. But you have to wade through a lot of pedestrian rockabilly and 12-bar banality to reach it.

Young knows some will find this a hard slog, but he’s got his response ready. On New Day For Love, he warns, ‘It’s a bad day to do nothing.’ On People Want To Hear, he knowingly chides, ‘Don’t talk about the Chevron millions going to the pipeline politician – people want to hear about love.

Certainly accusations directed at rockers that they can be waffly and vague can’t be levelled at Young, who names and shames for their iniquitous actions not just Monsanto but Starbucks, Safeway and Wal-Mart as well.

There is an elegiac quality to his plaints on closer I Don’t Know, Young wailing about ‘the veins – Earth’s blood’ as his guitar gently weeps. On the title track, he even invokes the bible – talk about a calling.

If you fancy being barked at by a grizzled campaigner about pesticides and sea pollution over three-chord sludge and ragged-glorious guitars, then you’ll love what Young and co cook up here. If not, stick to Harvest./o:p


Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.