Six decades into his storied career, Neil Young just won’t quit. The Man won’t let him. A White Knight brandishing a six string, Young has never witnessed an injustice he couldn’t sing about, whether it’s Richard Nixon and his tin soldiers firing upon the defenseless hippies at Kent State, the war-mongering of the George W. Bush administration or the evils of a GMO conglomerate. This Canuck has been woke for a long time now.
Returning for his 37th album, Young sets his sights on a handful of targets: the DAPL stand-off, the dissemination of fake news, Flint’s poisoned water, er, uh, Donald Trump. Shit, just about everything is a crying shame according to Peace Trail. At one point, a programmed computer voice ominously declares “Things have changed.” And who can argue with him (it)? However, the history of protest music will tell you that the more things change, the more things stay the same (or get worse).
Peace Trail was recorded in just four days. It sounds immediate. Homespun. Young is accompanied by only a bass player and drummer. The songs feel written in the moment — which, unfortunately, yields mixed results. The passion is there, but Young’s lyrics often come across a bit trite. Mimicking his Mr. Robert, Young sings “Sometimes all these changes make me sad.” Sure, who isn’t sad right now, but this sorta vagueness makes Peace Trail an anomaly — the tossed off concept album.
There are a few bright spots on Peace Trail, as Young is too gifted a songwriter to produce a clunkers-only set. “John Oaks” is a shaggy dog screed that mixes environmentalism and pro-union jive, ending by professing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. This is Young at his most direct. On “Can’t Stop Working,” Young provides a peak behind the curtain of his creative process. Basically, doing this singer-songwriter is what keeps him going. Some people retire, pack it up and head to Florida, shufflle-boarding until Death’s cold hand taps them on the shoulder. Young, apparently, reads the newspaper, drinks a cup of coffee, then plucks out a few simple chords and adds some words. Rinse, lather, repeat.
And good for him. While Peace Trail is certainly no Tonight’s the Night, the world needs this pissed off hippie more than ever. With Bob Dylan doing his Frank Sinatra covers and Apple commercials, it’s comforting to know that old Shakey is still standing up for what’s right. “Don’t think I’ll cash it in yet” he sings on the title track. He’s still planting seeds and still stoking fires.
Mike Postalakis (@mikepostalakis) is a writer, director and comedian living in Los Angeles. He doesn’t have a Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or HBO Go account. Instead, he spends his extra money at the Gap.