Whatever is said about Neil Young, the icon, at this point there are two overwhelmingly interesting things that he has done in his career. The first is to add some soulful diversity to his music, and of course he also did the sarcastic clever insights thing from the beginning, whether it pleased anyone or not, as he plays for himself and this is to be admired if not a reason to buy a release of his at this point.
He has certainly added new ideas to the last few records, and with this release, Peace Trail though, because songs like the title track, the second number, “Can’t Stop Workin’” in Peace Trail, and “Plastic Flowers” off of Storytone have created a vibe of aura and alternative rock, which is always a bit like him, but these are not the radio-friendly classic rock of his early days, and are solely atmospheric.
These are very much like, “New Way of Love” or “I’m Glad I Found You “, again on Storytone or “Mother Earth” on Earth, because all of them are very ethereal and ‘60s folk-rock.
This is just fine anyway, as solid rock is always welcome even now, and he gives us at least a small glimpse of the golden era of rock here. Again, there is more solid performance based harmonica, highs of the hippy unity wave in the lyrics, and sometimes very sad downs.
It is always measured though by something, if not ying-yang, then a message of unity. This is explored, continuing in “Show Me”, which is a bit more interesting than the first two numbers and a slow jam, though kind of too slow. Then, “John Oaks” is just a verbal reminiscing song of an indirectly appealing variety, not quite a song one listens to over and over, but moody rock.
“Texas Rangers” and “Indian Givers” give a bit more oddity to the sound; and this is no longer a pure-rock or pure-unity release, as these songs are biting in the notes and lyrics
While he is notorious for rock, he is also known for humorous antics and politics, perhaps mostly with cheerfully rebellious intentions, and even as this is often all over his music, he is a rounded out icon. Though he is famous, not everyone likes him, but he does much in bringing ironic rock still, just in a smaller avenue and not stadiums anymore.
“Working for a heart of gold,” to quote an early hit, may still be his goal, and this is fine, but difficult for some listeners, still he manages a variance in these new songs which allows for soul and not just irony. “My Pledge”, “Glass Accidents” and “My New Robot” are all very folky. In “My Pledge”, he is quite political and sour about judicial courts, seemingly both optimistic and oddly sad at the same time, then in “Glass Accident”, he laments his woes in relationships, strangely in a relatively upbeat and almost hippy sounding style. Lastly but not least, “My New Robot” is quality folk, though to most people it is more notable for the kind of crazy thing it does with computer advertising voiceover starting with amazon.com and just going on.
Overall, Neil Young continues to go political on Peace Trail after Earth, which was extremely so, and other releases were somewhat. That said, he is more omnipresent and really introspective on this album. This is not jarringly different, but kind of weirdly jolly and cool in this sense. It is hard to say what this is to all fans, but to music fans in general it is an interesting stretch run for Neil Young.