Current Issue Details

Buy Current Issue

Reviews > CDs

Are You Passionate? – Neil Young

Reprise Records 9362481112

Over the past 20-plus years, whenever I hear a new Neil Young album, the
first listen has provided an immediate impact. If it is not received with
outright ecstasy, I'll often find at least a number or two that hooks me to
its sludgy groove,
frenzied solo, or acoustic revelations, and pull me along through the rest
the tracks.

Young's latest work, "Are You Passionate?" provided a different scenario. It took time, lots of time, to grow on me. And even now, I find myself attracted to certain songs but not unquestionably drawn to them. The drifting lyrical themes and sonic moods never completely mesh. The album itself can be viewed several different ways. It's a natural fit to find Booker T & the MG's backing up Young on tracks that dwell on love everlasting as well as its trials and tribulations. The former house band for Stax Records provide the same able foundation as it did for Young when they toured together in 1993. Nevertheless, it's a surprise to hear Young taking advantage of the R&B setting by crafting his voice into a soulful tone on the opening track, "You're My Girl." It quickly changes to something akin to Tom Waits on "Mr. Disappointment".

Later, the album takes on another, more urgent, set of circumstances,
when "Let's Roll" – the infamous song released last fall as a tribute to
who perished September 11th on Flight 93 – appears. Placed in the middle of
series of love songs, it's a reminder of the fragility of life and how, when
cornered, you have to stand up and fight. At the same time, it emphasizes
love songs in a new light.

Early on, Young sounds as earnest as a puppy dog, but as he slides into
the slow blues of the title track, which follows "Let's Roll", he almost
sounds hollow, as if he's still shell-shocked from 9/11. But what keeps him
grounded is the inner flame of love.

And, in that context, it makes sense. On the other hand, I expected (and wished) Young to tear the roof off in a similar manner to "Rockin' in the Free World," to get in the listener's face, so to speak, to see if they're passionate enough about life and love now that terrorism has struck a savage blow.

As the album moves along, it veers back and forth between what it wants to
be. Much of it is unexpectedly sweet soul music that could find its starting
point over a decade ago on This Note’s for You. But "Passionate?"
and sways from that to Young's interest in Native Americans, Crazy
Horse-style rock and even a retread of the musical background of its own
opening number
("Being With You" has a slightly different key change with the same
background, only more prominent).

Moving uneasily between musical worlds seems to be an unfortunate thread with Young recently. The same thing occurred when he toured behind "Silver and Gold" two years ago. He had a band that served those songs well but wasn't conducive to any of the barnstorming numbers he performed from the past (i.e. "Tonight's the Night," "All Along the Watchtower").

It's especially noticeable here because he uses Crazy Horse on "Going
Home." While Booker T & the MG's provide a clean accompaniment, the ragged
glory of the Horse elevates the proceedings. How I wish that Young's trusty
trio would have been in the studio for "Let's Roll". While that song is
haunting because of its subject matter and Young's deft condensation of
events and its effects, the Horse could have provided a heightened

In the end, "Are You Passionate?" leaves me torn between what is and what
could have been. It has its moments and is enjoyable for its mild-mannered
ways, taking Young in one more musical direction in a widely varied creative
career. But there's little, at this point in time, that leaves me
passionately seeking to push the 'play' button in a hurry once it's

Show 0 Comments