Musically, this is a good though not great album. Politically, it expresses how literally tens of millions of Americans have been feeling for some time now, but with the corporate-owned and controlled right-wing media (which loves to hawk theories about the so-called "liberal" media) squelching the anger many Americans are feeling, Neil Young has been able to give voice to how so many of us believe. By all accounts, this album was recorded very quickly, but it does not for all that show signs of having been rushed to press. Young has never been a studio wonk, polishing and fine-tuning his songs. There has always been a delightful rough-hewn quality to his work, and that is evident here. The songs are performed by Young, a power trio, a trumpet, and a hundred-voice choir. Young typically produces either "plugged" or "unplugged" albums, in the former having been one of the major influences on grunge, punk, and indie rock, while in the latter a major influence on alt-country and folk rock. This is definitely one of his "plugged" albums, with Neil playing his guitar at its distorted best. Leaving aside the political content, the music on the album isn't as strong as on his best albums. This is considerably below ZUMA or TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT or RUST NEVER SLEEPS, but it is not one of his weaker albums. I would compare it to FREEDOM or WELD or RAGGED GLORY.
Most of the songs are at least good, but two I thought were extraordinary, both musically and in content. "Shock and Awe" is vintage Neil Young, solidified by hard-driving guitar and the kind of basic but compelling melody that Young has turned out a hundred times in his remarkable career. The lyrics are the most memorable on the disc, evoking some of the more embarrassing memories of the past three years, first the absurdity of the "shock and awe" campaign to open the war, followed by the humiliating display of Bush landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln (with banner made by the White House, but which they claim was made by personnel on the carrier) and declaring "Mission Accomplished," the thousands of Iraqi children who have suffered because of our military invasion and occupation, and the caskets that have returned during the Pentagons moratorium on any photos taken of their return. It is a string of heartbreaking images that condemns the White House for a string of misdoings. But the final verse is the hardest to hear, because it condemns us, the American people, for our failings in the 2004 election:
History is always going to ponder the fact that we reelected Bush with disbelief.
The song that has gotten the most attention before the album's release is "Let's Impeach the President." It is a rousing rocker that opens with a trumpet playing taps immediately before Neil plunges in:
The verses are all intensely angry (as should any thinking American), but the most damning section for Bush is the instrumental break that plays a string of recordings of Bush building his own case for impeachment. Out of Bush's own mouth he is condemned, including such famous instances of nonsense as "War is my last choice" and accusations that Saddam was behind 9/11 and harbored terrorists.
There are several other excellent songs on the album, such as the lovely "Families" and "Looking for a Leader," which expresses the hope that we can find someone decent to lead our country (something that I have heard from my friends on the Right as well as those from the Left-the nation's dirty little secret is that apart from Christian Fundamentalists, few even on the Right really like Bush). The only song that leaves me really flat is the choir's singing "America the Beautiful" to end the disc. I appreciate the sentiment, but musically it seems a bit dull compared with what went before.
Much is being made by the Right and the Pundits that Neil Young is Canadian. While this is true, it is also true that he has resided in California since the sixties, though he also has a home in Canada. It completely escapes me what relevance his being of Canadian origin and a part-time resident has to anything. Do the sentiments on this album reflect how tens of millions of Americans feel? Absolutely. Are the political beliefs expressed well founded? Definitely. There is already overwhelming evidence that Bush misled the American people to get us to invade Iraq, that they ignored the substantial amount of evidence that there were neither WMDs nor WMD programs in Iraq, and the evidence continues to mount. If the Democrats take the House in 2006 and Bush's war actions get investigated, the evidence could well explode. So, instead of repeatedly making mention of Neil's ties to our neighbor to the North, perhaps the pundits should ask: 1) does his album tap into widespread national sentiments (it does) and 2) is he justified in his anger (again, he is).
Political leaders throughout American history, from Jefferson to Thoreau to Teddy Roosevelt, have emphasized that the highest form of patriotism has been protest when the nation or its leaders have departed from the nation's ideals. At few points in American history have the ideals upon which the nation was founded been so thoroughly compromised by our leadership as at the present, with charges of torture, secret prisons for illegally holding detainees, imperialism, and military domination directed at the United States by the international community. Most of the world views the United States as a greater threat to international peace than the terrorists we claim to be trying to root out. Domestically, we have an administration that has consistently tried to squelch dissent, engaged in illegal wiretapping, and promulgated an agenda that has harmed the vast majority of Americans.
My outrage is not directed at people like Neil Young who has had the courage to speak out against a corrupt administration. My outrage is directed at those who refuse to get as mad as he is.