Release Date: Dec 1, 2017
Record label: Reprise
Genre(s): Folk-Rock, Pop/Rock
In the recent past, Neil Young's newest releases tended to be either gimmicky or strictly bound by some self-imposed restrictions. The Visitor, his collaboration with Promise Of The Real, is broad and all-encompassing. If there is one unifying factor, it's that the subject matter can be roughly described as Young's unflinching look at the state of the world, in all its abject beauty and squandered promise.
Neil Young is, deservedly, revered as one of our greatest living songwriters. Nevertheless, when an artist, even of his stature, sets about releasing his thirty-ninth studio album the initial response and subsequent reviews can err on the side of being dismissively polite. Quite rightly there's an increasing focus on redressing the balance of race and gender in the music industry, but there's rarely a thought for popular music's ageist tendencies.
Last year's Peace Trail was a classic Neil Young bait and switch: a collaboration with a veteran session drummer, Jim Keltner, that seemed to promise a return to the form of his eternal albatross, 1972's Harvest, but turned into something considerably weirder and woolier. Now, with The Visitor, Young has delivered an album that appears at first glance like a retread of 2006's patchy, Bush administration-bashing Living with War, only to reveal unexpected layers of ambition and nuance throughout. The Visitor finds Young tilting again at the political windmills of the present day: namely, Donald Trump and the grim parody of the American dream that the president represents.
When you take into account that he's lived about 50 of his 72 years on US soil, it's not that odd for people to think of Neil Young as a natural-born American citizen. But in the opening line to his second full-length with Texas country rockers Promise of the Real, he doesn't waste any time reminding people where he's from originally. "I'm Canadian by the way," he sings on "Already Great".
"I 'm Canadian, by the way, and I love the USA", begins the first of 10 songs which survey Donald Trump's United States with a long-settled immigrant's sorrowful and disdainful eye. However, Neil Young's third album with (son of Willie) Lukas Nelson's band shrewdly eschews stereotypical angry songs for warm, pretty and even funny protest music. At best, this is really effective.