From The Musicbox-online.com
Following the tragic destruction of the World Trade Center last September, the rock ’n‘ roll community came together in an unprecedented way, performing a series of benefit concerts and crafting new songs in a show of support for America. Some of these — like Bruce Springsteen’s My City of Ruins — were spectacular, while others — like Paul McCartney’s Freedom — were dismal. But most — like Neil Young’s Let’s Roll — tread some middle ground, not really ranking among the best or worst that the artist has to offer.
Part of the problem with Let’s Roll is its uncomfortable lyricism. While it pays tribute to those on ill-fated Flight 93 — the plane which crashed into a Pennsylvania field after its passengers struggled with hijackers — it’s also impossible not to take it as supportive of the current Administration and their poorly planned war-run-amuck. To be fair, at the time of the song’s writing, America was in shock and was more willing to concede to its leaders’ whims. But with lines like, “We’re goin’ after Satan/On the wings of a Dove,” the song now stands as an odd statement from someone like Young who long has rallied against war and unjust government policy. Then again, Young also spent a portion of the ’80s speaking in support of Ronald Reagan.
Regardless, when Let’s Roll is taken within the broader context of Young’s latest release Are You Passionate?, its flippant anger mutates into a catalyst for change. From the father-to-daughter dialogue of You’re My Girl to the recuperative power of a rock-solid relationship on She’s a Healer, Young delves deep into the notion of love as well as the need for family, friends, and faith in something bigger. And on Goin’ Home, he draws a line from America’s Wild West to today’s corporate world, painting a surreal clash of cultures that ends only when materialism fades away.
Change is the driving force behind Are You Passionate? as even the music Young lays down beneath his words is starkly different than anything he’s created before. Instead of the harsh, angst-ridden tones that he tends to infuse into his electrified outings — only Goin’ Home features Crazy Horse and contains the familiar Neil Young rock ’n‘ roll chug — Are You Passionate? retains the beauty of his more acoustic-oriented efforts. Flanked by a line-up that includes Booker T. Jones, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Steve “Smokey” Potts, and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Young has created the most soulful album of his career. And, by softening the edges a bit, several of the tracks wind up sounding like Motown classics, while the rest could pass as lost collaborations with Carlos Santana. As a result, Are You Passionate? resonates with a deeply rooted sense of spiritualism, making it a loosely-based concept album for the post-9/11 world — a place where quality beats quantity and solace can be found within the heart and mind, not within material possessions.
Have you ever listened to an album with nothing but mid-tempo songs in it? Whether you have or haven’t, you should do yourself a favor and don’t even touch Neil Young’s Are You Passionate? with a 10-foot pole. (Although I’d imagine that it would be pretty difficult to find a 10-foot pole to touch this album with even if you wanted to. Come to think of it, I don’t know where that expression came from. How many people do you know walk around touching things with 10-foot poles?) But seriously; if you are the type of person who gets bored easily, I’d stay well away from this album. I’m not even talking about ADD types. I’m talking about normal people who had a tough time making it through Gettysburg. Yeah, that movie SUCKS.
Neil Young teamed up with Booker T. and the MGs to create this album. That seems like such a cool idea at first, since it might be somewhat interesting to hear good old Neil getting an old school R&B groove on! … But, yeah, this album is about as exciting as a nature documentary that isn’t about sex or violence. These songs just plod along, plod along, plod along, and plod along. It’s a lot like Broken Arrow except there’s not very much grunge guitar. I know, I mentioned in my previous Neil Young albums that I had been getting tired of all that grunge guitar. But now. I’m starting to miss the grunge guitar!
I suppose it’s easy to get caught up in that ultra-clean groove that they conjure for the opening track “You’re My Girl.” The bassist plays a bouncy little line, and the lead guitarist compliments that with some high-pitched guitar stabs at regular intervals. Neil Young comes in with his signature eunuch vocals with a spattering of an interesting melody. It’s all a tad underwhelming, but just like most Neil Young songs, it seems fairly confident and thoughtful. (Hey, you can never fault this guy for sounding like he was doing exactly what he wanted to do!) It’s a breezy, light, and throwaway song. It’s the sort of song that I listen to once, and I never want to hear it again. Ever. But then Neil Young decides he wants to torture me and he brings in two other songs that sound exactly the same. …I mean, there are subtle changes such as slightly different chords or tempos. But listen to “You’re My Girl,” “Differently” and “Be With You” back to back and tell me that they are different from each other. Was he really so hard-up for ideas?
That said, the most trouble Neil Young seemed to be getting into with this album were the ballads. They’re even more slow moving than the “R&B” songs, and they take FOREVER to finally be over with. “Mr. Disappointment” and “Two Old Friends” strike me as intelligent songs, but if I told you I wasn’t feeling anything other than excruciating tedium while listening to those songs, I’d be lyin’. Easily the most depressing things about “Two Old Friends” are the guitar noodles. In the past when Neil Young was playing a dead-boring, he’d usually be reliable enough to come up with an interesting guitar noodle or two! But I listen to “Two Old Friends,” and I can’t perish the thought that his soloing belongs in an elevator somewhere. BLUH!!!!!!!!
But there are some good songs in here, which are so strong that they make this album a more or less worthwhile. “Let’s Roll” might have terrible, hastily written lyrics about the United 93 tragedy, but I like that creepy and menacing mid-tempo groove they come up with! I also like that guitar-heavy “Goin’ Home” with that gruff and dark Indian-war-chant riff. Come to think of it, that song sounds like it was written for Broken Arrow, and it would have surely been one of that album’s highlights. The best song of this album has to be the mildly jazzy nine-minute closer “She’s a Healer.” Most of these songs are insanely long, but at least Neil’s able to come up with a haunting vibe that draws me in, and his minimalist guitar noodles throughout are 100 percent cool. …So, there you go. There are three good reasons to listen to Are You Passionate?. Well, four, since “Quit” is pretty good also.
I want to say that I can still consider Are You Passionate? another decent album in Young’s impressive discography, but I can’t. This album seems to have BORED me more than it actually engaged me. This album is so frequently mind-numbing that I have to force myself to pay attention to it, and that’s just not the sort of album that I would ever recommend to anybody. This album rather seems like it was designed for listeners who don’t want to listen to anything at all.
Neil Young had been playing with Booker T. & the MG’s since the mid-’90s, touring heavily with the Stax house band, but the soul grooves on 2002’s Are You Passionate?, the first album he cut with the group as a backing band, still come as a surprise. It could be because that even when he assembled the Bluenotes for the proto-neo-swing This Note’s for You, he never tried to be as warm, seductive, and romantic as he does here. That’s right, the title is no joke — this is a romantic album, grounded with tight Southern soul rhythms and dressed in Young’s signature fuzz-tone Les Paul.
No matter the topic of the song, the essential sound is the same: a lazy soul groove, built on what Booker T. & the MG’s did in the late ’60s, vamping over Neil’s three chords as he croons, usually in a falsetto but sometimes in a gruff lower register, while kicking out a variation of “I Can’t Turn You Loose” (most notably heard on the opener, “You’re My Girl,” but rearing its head elsewhere). This is even true of “Let’s Roll,” a song inspired by the final words of Todd Beamer, one of the passengers on Flight 93 who helped overtake terrorists intent on flying a plane into Washington D.C.; though it’s one of the first major post-9/11 songs, written by an artist notorious for his support of Reagan, it is neither reactionary nor all that moving — mostly, it just sounds like another mid-tempo groover on an album filled with them.
And that’s the main problem with the record — though it reads well on paper and is certainly more ambitious than any Neil Young record in years, the songs aren’t distinctive or developed, and apart from the rather muscular, Crazy Horse-backed “Goin’ Home,” they’re all delivered in the same fashion and all blend together. Instead of sounding like a refreshing change of pace, it’s a muddled, aimless affair from an artist who’s had too many middling efforts over the last decade.
From The Austin Chronicle
There’s everything wrong with Are You Passionate?. The songs are too long, too slow, and they all sound the same. They may all be the same. Leadoff “You’re My Girl,” a bigdumbfriendly ode to Young’s gone-college daughter, couldn’t be more aw-shucks, while “Mr. Disappointment” is simple to a fault, and “Quit (Don’t Say You Love Me)” is nothing but groove. Moreover, they all feature the same sore-thumb riff — pulsing red and impossible to ignore. The title track, trademark Youngian suede, would be a stone classic were it not for its Black Hawk Down. Likewise “Let’s Roll,” ostensibly about the 9/11 plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, is much too geezerish to inspire much glory. Long in the tooth might describe “Goin’ Home,” featuring Young’s bucking Crazy Horse, particularly given its transparent attempt to rewrite past glories like “Cortez the Killer.” At nine minutes, however, it just may be too short. “Be With You,” then, ain’t too proud to boogie, and “Two Old Friends” is an honest-to-goodness slice of Sixties nostalgia (in these days of Eighties and now Nineties rebounding) from someone who inspires it like few of his contemporaries still do. Sweet. Passionate should quit while it’s ahead, but “She’s a Healer” tries to end on an upbeat Stax note. Oh, that’s right. The production. Just how bad can an LP produced by “Neil Young & Booker T. Jones with Duck Dunn and Poncho Sampedro” be? Not bad at all.