Music Review: The Monsanto Years
The Monsanto Years
Neil Young and Promise of the Real
Folk/rock legend Neil Young’s latest offering is exactly what its name suggests: an entire album of musical diatribes against the biotechnology corporation Monsanto. Backed by Promise of the Real, a California-based band led by Willie Nelson’s son Lukas, Young wraps his anti-GMO sentiments in the same kind of winsomely unpolished rock music that dominated past efforts like Ragged Glory and Mirror Ball. Perhaps in an effort to make the songs as accessible as possible, he keeps his messages Sesame Street simple: minus the melodies and rhythms, many of The Monsanto Years’s lyrics could be the plainspoken words of one friend to another (“When the people of Vermont voted to label food with GMOs so that they could find out what was in what the farmer grows, Monsanto and Starbucks, through the Grocery Manufacturers Alliance, sued the state of Vermont to overturn the people’s will”).
Although GMOs are the focal point of The Monsanto Years, the broader theme of the album is the corporate plunder of planet Earth. The downtempo “Wolf Moon” mourns the decimation of nature and its wild creatures, while “Big Box” takes aim at the corporatization of culture and government at large. In “People Want to Hear about Love,” Young sings from the perspective of one or more unnamed commentators who advise that the public isn’t interested in hearing songs about political corruption, environmental degradation, and the loss of personal freedom.
By implicitly likening fracking to the act of shooting heroin (“Like finding oil and shooting poison in the ground, the veins, the earth’s blood”), The Monsanto Years’s final track, the Beatles-tinted “If I Don’t Know,” faintly recalls Young’s classic “The Needle and the Damage Done.” As if conceding to a populace whose aesthetics have been shaped by three-minute love songs, the singer muses that “if the melodies stay pretty and the songs are not too long,” perhaps he can help restore the planet’s veins to health. — Damon Orion