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There's nothing like prolonged military action to spark some fiery, anti-war rock & roll.
Neil Young already has a career's worth of experience fanning the flames - dating back to 1969's "Ohio", but the long-haired nineties kids of Pearl Jam were barely tots when gunfire shattered Kent State.
However, Young and his generation taught their children well, and against the backdrop of the Iraq war, both the grunge godfather and his tough rocking disciples have made the most incendiary music since...their garage rock collaboration Mirror Ball over a decade ago.
The artistic triumph here belongs to Pearl Jam, reclaiming their rightful position as the rabble rousing, riff-crazy, American U2. Eddie Vedder and company sound positively recharged on their eighth studio album, possibly their most mature work yet, and also their most ferocious.
The twin guitar attack of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready sound like the work of one four-handed man. But it would just be all sonic bragging if the songs didn't match the intensity of the playing - Vedder's been joined by his bandmates in writing angry, insightful anthems of despair, rage, and ultimately hope.
Vedder's singing has never been more focused, and if it wasn't clear before, he's in the same league as any Rock & Roll Hall of Fame vocalist you can name. Pearl Jam manages to make big sweeping statements, and at the same time, humanize the swirling emotions Americans are feeling about their involvement in Iraq.
Pearl Jam, the album, hearkens back to the time when rock & roll presented a mirror to society. Pearl Jam, the band, takes that mirror, crushes it to sand, and builds it all over again.
Living With War
NEIL YOUNG, in his position as rock & roll's elder eccentric, can do just about anything he wants, and people will forgive him with a "Well, it's Neil." Through his recent forays into mellow, Harvest-wannabe country rock, and even the ambitious but flawed rock opera Greendale, there was the growing suspicion that Young had not taken his own advice that it was better to burn out than to fade away. It would have been unlikely to find any Las Vegas bookies to take odds on whether Young would ever release a vital album again.
Living With War, despite being simplistic and hokey at times, and derivative almost all the time, certainly sounds vital - and to an extent, marks a return to his Crazy Horse rock steady sound.
With sudden inspiration, Young wrote and recorded these songs - often onthe same day - and thanks to the urgency of the Internet, made themavailable online weeks before the album was officially released. Talk about folk music for the people!
With Rick Rosas and Chad Cromwell on bass and drums, respectively, it's Young's distinctive, chunky rhythm guitar sound which defines the songs here. That and his equally distinctive vocals and lyrics.
Whereas Pearl Jam invokes some imagery, metaphors, and poetry into their anti-war stance, Young has no patience for that. "Let's Impeach the President" and "Lookin' for a Leader" don't leave much room for interpretation. Being older, and presumably short of time, he gets right to the point. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it just sounds forced.
But if Young sounds indignant lyrically, he expresses it best musically with bounds of inspiration, if not originality.
Whether borrowing from himself on the title track and "Shock and Awe" (check out the seamless mix of REM's "The One I Love" and his own "Out of the Blue and Into the Black"), or just mimicking artists he admires, Young prefers the raw spirit over flawless arrangements. "Families" is note for note Springsteen's "No Surrender", and "Roger and Out" has the same genetic code as "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," but you're willing to excuse the lack of originality due to the conviction of the performances.
Despite there being too many fast tempoed rockers and not enough variety, Young is clearly in his element on Living With War. War may be hell, but it's sure woken up slumbering giants like Neil Young and Pearl Jam.
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