Neil Young + Promise Of The Real - Earth (2LP)

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Neil Young used his union with the Promise of the Real -- the gangly crew fronted by Willie Nelson's kids Lukas and Micah -- to tackle weighty social problems on The Monsanto Years, a record supported by a relatively expansive tour. Earth, a double album culled from 2015 performances, goes one further, mining ecologically minded Young tunes and then addressing them to mother earth herself. According to Young, the catch is, "our animal kingdom is well represented in the audience as well, and the animals, insects, birds, and mammals actually take over the performances of the songs at times." This is an understatement. Animal sounds infect Earth, sometimes swallowing the guitars, sometimes chirping along in rhythm, an affect that is precisely the opposite of natural. Earth is aggressively artificial, the nature noises grafted upon performances that are indifferent to their presence. Perhaps this tension could be construed as a commentary, but as executed on Earth, the tension is entirely accidental. Young and the Promise of the Real lumber along in their own world, turning out perfectly respectable versions of songs old and new and, just when everything seems normal, the chirps, crows, and moos all arrive on a downbeat, sending things into a realm where the psychedelic and the silly coexist. Anybody looking for a straight-up document of Young & the Promise of the Real may very well be disappointed but Earth is better because of its inspired madness: the weirdness isn't merely a reason to listen, but it elevates the album to the status of one of Young's genuinely inspired nutso albums.

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