Neil Young's Antiwar Howl

By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Neil Young is mad as hell and wants you to know it. Immediately. Having knocked out a ragged collection of antiwar, anti-Bush songs in about two weeks, Young is now rushing the recording into the marketplace.

"Living With War," which Young calls a "metal folk protest" album, has been streaming on since Friday, and just yesterday the 10-song set was made available for purchase as a digital download. The CD will arrive in stores Tuesday, having been hurried through the manufacturing process.

Forget the typical, months-long ramp-up; Young and his label, Reprise, are treating this thing as though it's some sort of breaking news bulletin. This just in: Neil Young is "looking for a leader to bring our country home." ( And yes, by "our country," the singer, a Canadian citizen, means the United States, where he's lived for decades.)

But the urgency is somewhat strange, given that the album doesn't appear to be inspired by any recent events.

Was Young not paying attention during the 2004 presidential election, or during September's antiwar protest on the Mall? Did he only recently realize his contempt for Bush and his outrage over the war in Iraq? Where ya been, Neil?

Young, of course, has a long history of singing topical songs, most famously including "Ohio," the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young single that was rushed to radio shortly after four students were killed during a peace rally at Kent State University in 1970.

"Living With War," however, seems to be a couple of years behind the curve, coming across like a series of stale, somewhat superficial lefty blog posts set to fuzzy rock as Young attacks (and mocks) the Bush administration while declaring war on war.

On "After the Garden," in that inimitable warble of his, he sings of a time when we "won't need no stinkin' waaaaaaaaar."

On "Shock & Awe" he observes, over his own howling electric guitar, that "history was a cruel judge of overconfidence" while referencing the president's "Mission Accomplished" declaration of 2003. And on another song, over yet another outrage-underscoring distorted guitar line, Young leads a 100-member choir (which appears frequently on the album, to annoying effect) on a sloganeering singalong: "Let's impeach the president for lying/And misleading our country into war." He also suggests that spying is grounds for impeachment and then goes all Michael Moore by stringing together a bunch of contradictory Bush sound bites.

So much for Young's quiet and reflective phase -- the one that resulted in last year's sentimental country-rock album, "Prairie Wind."

This album is all about venting, and it's accordingly noisy and discordant. It also sounds unfinished, as Young opted to work in the moment and plow through the writing and recording process rather than refining the material. Thus, it has the rough-draft feel of "Mirror Ball," Young's hastily recorded 1995 collaboration with Pearl Jam.

But "Living With War" is way more about ideology than music, with Young's political statements standing front and center. Let's just say that you might like this album if you have Daily Kos set as your Internet home page. If your daily routine begins with Michelle Malkin or Power Line, "Living With War" is going to make you mad as hell. Which is pretty much the point.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "After the Garden," "Flags of Freedom"

© 2006 The Washington Post Company