Living With War

Studio Album by released in 2006
Living With War's tracklist:
After the Garden
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Living With War
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The Restless Consumer
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Shock and Awe
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Families
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Flags of Freedom
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Let's Impeach the President
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Lookin' for a Leader
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Roger and Out
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America the Beautiful
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Living With War review

Neil Young recorded the nine original songs on Living With War in six days

White-hot on the heels of Bruce Springsteen's savvy invocation of vintage folk and gospel music to stir the pot of political protest, Neil Young looks no further into the past than his morning newspaper for source material on his new album, Living With War, the most powerfully unequivocal condemnation of the war in Iraq to date by a major pop music figure. The legacy of Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra right up to Operation Iraqi Freedom provides the subtext of Young's tack here. He draws a line between vehemently disagreeing with the decisions (and ethics) of government leaders and supporting the grunts who are putting their lives on the line because of those decisions. In a time of crisis, subtlety is not an option, and speed is essential. Neil Young recorded the nine original songs on this album in six days, just a month ago. He wrote four of those songs on the day he cut them. And in all nine, Young charges the current American president and his administration with, among other things, lying, spying, waging war with no right or reason and dereliction of duty to the nation's founding ideals. Anthemic energy and urgency of the songs tap deep into the primal appeal of rock music, and of Neil Young.

The music guns for glory but the man himself sounds perennially vulnerable

Power and frailty: Neil Young has made one of his all-time great albums. It's all there in track one, After the Garden, a ragged invocation to lost innocence whose overcranked guitars and typically shaky lead vocal disguise the arrival of a vast choir, which launches a dramatic, hymnal chorus. And that's the magic of Young: the music guns for glory but the man himself sounds perennially vulnerable, as if he's never quite on top of things. There are more late surging choruses on Families and Flags of Freedom before Young launches into the album's controversial centerpiece. Only he could write and sing a song titled Let's Impeach the President without sounding like a pompous berk, a feat abetted on this occasion by some poignant flurries from the Mexican trumpets and a number of choice cut-ups sampled from Bush's public pronouncements. From there, Young spins off into another vivid singalong, Looking for a Leader, before handing over to the choir for an ambivalent final word: a powerfully church-y rendition of America the Beautiful which serves as a reminder that Young remains as besotted with his adopted country as he is unimpressed with its elected president.

Let’s Impeach the President will be the track talked about the most

Amid all the media brouhaha saluting the return of one of the great names of protest rock to the finger-pointing arena, one salient fact has gone unremarked. Living With War is up there with the handful of truly great Neil Young albums. Unlike the mostly acoustic 2005 album Prairie Wind, Living With War sees Young don his rock-and-roll cap from the first track on out. Choppy distortion, boom-thwack drums, and call-and-response, choir-sung choruses reinforce the angst, questioning and rage that envelope the album. Taking on different characters' viewpoints and giving them a voice, he succeeds here where some of his contemporaries, while well meaning, have come off short of the mark. The challenge of writing songs designed to lodge immediately in people's heads seems to have forced Young to come up with strong melodies, something else noticeably absent in his oeuvre of late. Young is at his most direct from a writing standpoint and his beloved guitar, Old Black, hasn’t sounded this ragged and raunchy since his last great record with Crazy Horse, Ragged Glory. But as direct as he is on every track, Young’s preaching never becomes overbearing or repetitive. Sure, Let's Impeach the President will be the track talked about the most, but the overall message is clear: people are dying, perhaps for little reason, and it needs to stop now. Let’s hope his mission is accomplished soon.