Neil Young

The Monsanto Years

Tell you what, when he finds out about this, Neil Young’s going to be livid.

It’s bad enough that somebody should have attempted this audacious jape in the first place, recording a parody album under his name. But worse still that they’ve induced his own record company to release it. Whoever it was, you have to give the cheeky blighters credit for their ingenuity. Like all the best spoofs, it works by combing beautifully pitched imitation with exactly the right amount of exaggeration. Go too far, and the whole tzimis will seem ham-fisted and overcooked. This, conversely, is a marvellous send-up of something ham-fisted and overcooked. Like The Onion at its best, it might even fool the unwary into believing it’s the real thing.

I’m guessing our adroit impostors have taken as their model Greendale, Young’s vigorous but clunky polemical piece from 2003, and wondered, how would that clunky polemic sound, were the vigour replaced with comical ineptitude? In The Monsanto Years, they have credibly imagined Young creating a protest work centred around that quasi-conspiratorial nexus where corporate skullduggery, state control and big, bad science unite to crush the little guy. Which is, of course, partially sort-of true, but also utterly bereft of nuance and wider context, and thus liable to go skidding off into misapprehension, paranoia and plain, dumb oversimplification.

Evidently, these impersonators understand that duff thinking does not necessarily result in bad art, and that it would have been perfectly possible to make a great record on this theme; indeed, that some of the most incendiary political pop has come about in just this fashion. So they have been at pains to ensure the resulting lampoon should possess no redeeming features to compromise its hilarity. Not only are the concepts themselves reductive and half-baked and the lyrics risibly clumsy, but the songs appear to have been composed in less time than it actually takes to perform them. Then, in an almost perfect travesty of Young’s usual exhilarating, unpredictable brio, played and recorded with slapdash inadequacy. (Particular credit should be given to the drumming, which the satirists have artfully engineered to sound as if it were entrusted to a semi-trained spaniel equipped with a variety of cereal boxes.) It’s all rags, no glory: a cruel but brilliantly executed vision of how badly wrong Young’s idiom might go should he falter.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the prank is the way its perpetrators have grasped that Young’s strengths as an artist – his heart-on-sleeve directness, his romanticism, his robust moral impulses, his instinctive defence of the underdog and his admirable obliviousness to the notion of giving a damn what anybody else might think he should do – are the very things that would make such an album so enthrallingly awful were he ever to undertake one himself. Plausibility is the key to a successful hoax, and they have hit the bullseye here. Well badly played, you skilful sods.

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