A patchwork quilt of an album

By Paul Rigg

Has Neil Young lost the plot on his 39th studio album - or is he a stalwart shining beacon of hope for those feeling overwhelmed by the current political situation?     

Certainly the repeated references to Donald Trump cannot be missed on this ‘patchwork quilt’. Whether that quilt is felt to be a little bit too thrown together, or whether it is richly textured, will depend on how devoted you are to this musical icon and your willingness to embrace his political premise. 

You can feel the direction in which the wind is going to blow right from the start with the album's opening track, "Already Great." Young swaggeringly presents himself and his subject matter directly - and movingly - in the first line "I'm Canadian by the way, and I love the U.S.A.", before taking one of Trump’s campaign slogans, distorting it, and throwing it back at him: "You’re already great/You’re the promised land, the helping hand; No wall, no hate, no fascist U.S.A.". Here Young’s, and The Promise of the Real’s, sludge guitars perhaps recall most closely his golden period with Crazy Horse. It might be expected then that he has returned here to rely on his legendary 1950s Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, “Old Black".

The political message returns both in the next song "Fly by Night Deal", where he sings "My blood is boiling", and the following laid-back acoustic number, "Almost Always," where he laments: "I'm living with a game-show host who has to brag and has to boast about tearing down the things that I hold dear." However, Young’s mind and message seems to wander on this latter track as he moves on to birds mating (yes, really) and existential doubt: “Do I have something to say? Maybe just a feeling/ that things are bound to change.”  

Following Stand Tall” - where he returns to expose the flaws of the “boy king” – Young abruptly takes us into extremely strange territory with ‘Carnival’. This hilarious and weirdly enjoyable eight-minute romp sounds like some kind of a musical-circus group has just taken Mexican peyote for the first time.

The Visitor
then travels in an entirely different direction with the blues and Tom Waits’ sounding "Diggin' a Hole", which even though it is only two minutes long seems to lose its way. That track turns out to be ‘the calm before the storm’ for "Children of Destiny," however, which offers a huge sing-along chorus backed, reportedly, by a 56-piece orchestra.  

The album closes with a return to a more familiar sounding Young on "Forever." This gentle ten-minute plus acoustic anthem finds him singing: "Earth is like a church without a preacher/The people have to pray for themselves".

The lyrics on this last track touch on a varied mix of themes, which in a way are reflective of the album as a whole. Personally I feel that The Visitor is a patchwork of songs that I will be happy to pull up over me and have around.