"Four Dead in O-HI-O." "Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s." "We got a kinder, gentler machine-gun hand." "Time is runnin' out, let's roll." "I'm living with war every day." Neil Young has never been one to pull punches either socially or politically. Now comes Living with War (Reprise; Music ••••, Sound •••), as direct a hit as anyone could muster.
Nine of the album's 10 songs - all written and recorded in a two-week period - are pounded out in the power-trio format, à la Crazy Horse without rhythm guitar. It's far from a high-fidelity affair, but that's not the point; the point is immediacy and impact. Young's vocals are front and center on every track, anchored by drummer Chad Cromwell's reliable beat and Rick Rosas's steadying bass. Neil's gnarly guitar permeates most tracks for emphasis ("The Restless Consumer," "Lookin' for a Leader"), though Tommy Bray's trumpet takes the melody line on the title track and pulls a solo on "Shock and Awe."
There's nothing subtle about Young's anger at the state of our union. "Let's Impeach the President" roasts the Administration with contradictory Bush soundbites, answered by Young chanting "flip" and "flop" like a maniacal CNN commentator (call him CNY). Yet a soaring "America the Beautiful" closes the album, its chorus comprised of literally 100 voices reaffirming our country's promise in spite of all the dissent. It's a sure spiritual descendant of Jimi Hendrix's take on "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock.
Eddie Vedder is sometimes less direct in his lyrics for Pearl Jam's new self-titled set (Monkey Wrench/J; Music ••••½, Sound ••••). But that doesn't mean the band delivers the goods with less power. Fierce guitars from Stone Gossard and Mike McCready are at the forefront of the mix as much as Vedder's snarl, and their headbang-worthy groove is propelled into overdrive by the formidable rhythm section of bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron. The riveting jitter-punk opener, "Life Wasted," sets the table - and "World Wide Suicide" knocks the silverware to the floor, lamenting the detachment and helplessness that many people feel in the wake of our country's actions (or lack thereof): "And in all the madness / Thought becomes numb and naive." The raucous "Comatose" is anything but, and McCready's introspective, acoustic-based "Inside Job" ends the disc by recommitting to convictions in the face of adversity.
Three-plus decades after the garden has gone, Neil Young and Pearl Jam continue to stick to their guns - the artistic kind. Now there's a ticket you can believe in.
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