Published Nov 29, 2016What a mess. With Peace Trail, Neil Young continues his streak of tossed off, lacklustre, even at times provocatively shoddy records he's maintained since his longtime producer David Briggs passed away in 1995. For 20 years now, it seems like no one has been there to save Neil Young from his own worst impulses.
Musically, his 37th studio album marks a low point in Young's storied career. His talented sidemen Jim Keltner and Paul Bushnell barely seem to know the songs, and are clearly not yet comfortable playing together. The album sounds more like a rehearsal than a completed record, with Keltner's pacing off, Young flubbing lyrics and Bushnell at times just guessing. Whereas the loose, jammy feel of great musicians working together is often the virtue of Neil Young's classic 1970s releases — Tonight's The Night, Zuma, and On the Beach all benefit from spontaneity and happy accidents — the result here is that the songs just sound badly played.
But even this would be defensible if the songs themselves were up to it, but they aren't. Staggered by a crippling frequency of naïve and on-the-nose political statements, Peace Trail marks a nadir in leftist Baby Boomer topical songwriting. Even if you agree with Young about the righteousness of the water protectors in Standing Rock, the scourge of Big Oil or the danger of a creeping police state, you are also likely to find a 12-year-old who is able to write more nuanced poetry about these concerns.
Much is made of Neil Young's run of awful records in the 1980s — his label even sued him for making terrible music — but I'd take Landing on Water over this every time. Hell, I'd even take Life. (Reprise)