Neil Young + Promise of the Real - Earth

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2016-08-12

Earth begins with rain, bullfrogs, a little harmonica. Then, harmonium and Neil’s lonesome, haunting voice pleading, “O Mother Earth’.  It’s a gorgeous start to an eccentric live album. ‘Seed Justice’ is interspersed with farm animal noises and other sounds from nature. Chickens, flies, hawks. And then applause. Whether intentionally funny or not, it can’t help but bring a chuckle.

Also in naturally idiosyncratic Young fashion, both discs are on one track only. There’s no break. It just keeps going. Without a doubt, Young wants your intention and he wants you to hear this album.

Most of the material borrows from last year’s The Monsanto Years. The songs are direct in subject matter but less preachy than one might expect given the title. Bear in mind, Young is no stranger to the protest song, ‘Ohio’ anyone? So really, he’s just carrying on the tradition. ‘Monsanto Years’ features an irresistible hook. And lots of buzzing flies and backing singers singing, “Safeway, Safeway”. I confess to shrugging off The Monsanto Years and Earth has inspired me to give it a proper listen. So if that’s Young’s logic behind this one, mission accomplished.

The surprises in this live set are ‘Western Hero’ from one of Young’s finest and most experimental albums of the 90’s, Sleeps with Angels. Also on offer is a rare and blistering, ‘Vampire Blues’ from one of my favorite Young albums, On the Beach. It all goes to show the Eco-message is nothing new for Young. The squealing bats dubbed in are a nice touch. It’s hard to know what to make of Young’s choice of dubbing in animal noises but it just makes the whole listening experience a bit more fun. At the end we hear the sound of a horse rearing and Young, plaintively cooing, “Peace, Peace.”

‘Hippie Dream’ is far more poignant here than on 1986’s poorly received, Landing On Water. An off the wall choice, all of which makes this album more interesting than it might have been. It’s a stellar version, proving at 70 Young hasn’t lost his edge or cynicism. “Just because it’s over for you, doesn’t mean it’s over for me,” Young sneers defiantly.

Throughout, the band is fine form, but with ‘After the Goldrush’ Young wisely strips things down to just the piano. It’s disc one’s most arresting and welcome moment. Any critics of Young’s environmental concerns should bear in mind this old chestnut was about--- the environment.

Do you sense a theme here?

Disc one closes with, ‘Human Highway’, a charmer from another of my favorite Young albums, 1978’s rather underrated, Comes A Time. It’s a spare simple version, reminding me why I love Neil Young so much.

Disc 2  is almost entirely devoted to The Monsanto Years, kicking off with ‘Big Box’. And I get the sense that Young affections for that album aren’t fleeting. He’s full of passion and ire. It seems clear that if the world wants to bury that album, Young isn’t going down without a fight. ‘People Want to Hear About Love’ is meant to be the big show stopper but frankly, it left me checking my watch. I’m far more drawn to ‘Wolf Moon’ and its spare, plaintive yearning.

The album closes with ‘Love and Only Love’ off 1990’s Ragged Glory. It’s a ferocious version and another reason to lend this an ear.

Young has never played by anyone’s rules and now that he finally is that ‘Old Man’ off Harvest, he shouldn’t have to. Earth won’t go down as an instant Young classic but more an oddity that is likely to slip through the cracks. Despite any of that, I find it an intriguing and quirky live album. Clearly he’s not interested in playing the Oldies but bringing a message. And even if he drives it home with a 2 by 4, at least he’s trying to say something. While, Rust Never Sleeps will always hold the highest place of esteem in Young’s live concept albums, Earth is commendable. Of course, Time Fades Away will always be my favorite live Neil Young album. Not that we’re likely to ever see it in print considering how much Young hates it. One man's bad memory is another's bliss.

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