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NEIL YOUNG - Are You Passionate?
What we've got here is failure to deteriorate. With his graying hair and weathered skin, Neil Young is just as compelling as that fella who warned "Lookout Joe" at the Civic Auditorium in Bakersfield on March 11, 1973; just as dynamic as that weirdo who blared "I Got A Problem" at the Catalyst Club in Santa Cruz on February 7, 1984; just as captivating as that man who hypnotized the crowd with "Ambulance Blues" on March 20, 1999. Young's latest album demonstrates that he is nowhere near his End, as "Are You Passionate?" shows that he still has enough energy to be persistent and do his own thing.
Those who feel lead to categorize music according to Style, Apparel, Scent, etc., are often confused with Young, and have therefore dubbed him with several labels through the years. The trendiest of these is "Grandaddy Of Grunge," since he evidently started the class in which the likes of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden are found at the local Camelot.
Look! Neil wears a plaid shirt, comfortable jeans, and long hair.
Listen! Neil's voice occasionaly cracks from intensity, and songs like "Mr. Soul" are backed with crunched riffs.
See? Neil is "grungy."
Although this deplorable inclination to pigeonhole Art fails 98.3% of the time, there is one moniker that comes close to fitting Neil Young: Yoda. That Jedi Master, the one who trained Luke Skywalker, that ancient little guy who could pick up an X-Wing Fighter with sheer will. He too did his own thing, and developed quite a command of the Force, though he always maintained a sense of humility. Likewise, Neil Young is a Master of Art, but he always bears the persona of an ordinary human being, despite the fact that he's the greatest Artist of all time.
It's therefore no surprise to find "Are You Passionate?" laden with yet another batch of personal insight and wisdom that transcends any generational gap. "Mr. Disappointment" accepts responsibility for a dwindling Love, but vows to "never give up the fight" to rekindle that fire. This understanding also appears in "Don't Say You Love Me," where it's once again infused with the perseverance that's become a trademark of Young's attitude toward Life.
Along with this passionate hindsight, these tracks are enriched with romantic sincerity, an attribute rarely present in the Mainstream. Sure, it's easy to say something like "I'd die without you," as 78 million tunes have used such recycled rhetoric. On the other hand, when this Yoda declares "without that woman, I'm toast" in "She's A Healer," he obviously means it. Lyrics such as "when I hold you in my arms, it's a breath of fresh air ('When I Hold You In My Arms')" and "I got to hold on, I got to be strong, I got to live long and be with you ('Be With You')" exemplify honest affection, rather than some shallow attempt to merely sound poetic.
Switching gears, songs like "Goin' Home" and "Two Old Friends" explore Society and Spirituality through fearless passages and truly stimulating intellect. In "Let's Roll," a tribute to Todd Beamer and the heroism of the passengers aboard the infamous Flight 93, Young professes "you gotta turn on evil when it's comin' after you," a stance that most artists try to avoid.
Most musicians from Young's generation have long since faded away, and those who are still kicking tend to reveal their aging mentalities within their music. Even the great Bob Dylan, who is still an amazing lyricist, has started illustrating the viewpoint of a man in his sixties, a perception that listeners in their twenties can't relate to. In contrast, Young has always projected a discernment that doesn't adhere to any specific age bracket. His maturity is evident throughout this album, but it's more in the sense of knowledge and reflection rather than emotion. Those who weren't around "back when the Band played Rock Of Ages in their prime," as remembered in "Two Old Friends," can still identify with the nostalgic sentiment, and the hopeful desire to make this world a better place. Just as those who were moved by "Out On The Weekend" from Neil's most popular release ("Harvest"), the passion within "She's A Healer" invokes a cleansing reminder of the true meaning of Life.
All of this is fortified with the funky yet precise grooves of Booker T & the MG'S, a band whose deep-rooted talent has joined forces with Young for this venture. They've played together from time to time, and as those lucky enough to witness such are well aware, it's an incredible union. However, this is apparently the first time that alliance has taken place within a studio, and the result is something that will surely gratify those who've eagerly waited to hear them on disc (aside from the various sets floating around in the world of CDR trading).
While "Are You Passionate?" may be an acquired taste, it's just one of the wide range of flavors from Neil Young, whose diversity touches every genre. As an isolated effort, this album is certainly thus far the best of this year, a tight package of flawless music, intelligent observations, and raw passion. When grouped with the rest of Yoda's albums, it ranks somewhere in the middle, but this is within a group that is far above any other. The Force is definitely strong with Young, and this album proves that it's only getting stronger.
STARS: 4 / 5