Nick Bollinger checks out a sketchy set of topical tunes from Neil Young.
‘Peace Trail’ is the opening track and title song from Neil Young’s 40th album. With a familiar acoustic strum and the straggly tones of his electric guitar, not to mention the quavering voice and words of defiance, it’s like a composite of several of Young’s finer moments, only it fails to ignite as a song in its own right. And sadly it’s one of the more fully-formed pieces on the record. More typical are things that sound more like he just fished them out of his demo bin.
As anyone who has lent an ear to Young over the years will know, he’s never been slow to break into song when stirred by current events. At best, that’s resulted in topical broadsides of real impact: ‘Ohio’, written in the wake of the student killings at Kent State University, springs to mind. Lately Young’s attention has turned to environmental and land issues. But a cause such as the Standing Rock pipeline protest surely deserves a better anthem than ‘Indian Givers’. The sentiments may be laudable, but the song is barely half-cooked. And while drummer Jim Keltner does his best to make it interesting, when the best thing about a Neil Young record is the drumming, you know there’s something wrong. Another warning sign is the return of the ‘robot voice’ he used on Trans, one of his more maligned albums from the 80s.
The songs on Peace Trail aren’t long, though some of them certainly feel like they are. But Young has a found good trick to keep you from nodding off. He’s hooked up his harmonica up to some fiendish kind of amplification device and, just at the point where tedium is sending you off to sleep, he’ll give it a short blast – just long and loud enough to shock you out of your stupor.
Songs featured: Peace Trail, Texas Rangers, Indian Givers, My New Robot, Terroist Suicide Hang Gliders, Can’t Stop Working.
Peace Trail is available on Reprise Records.