The Visitor

Neil Young / Promise of the Real

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The Visitor Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Like many citizens of the world, Neil Young didn't handle the electoral events of 2016 with ease. Already leaning toward a state of constant cryptic protest -- he managed to turn his 2016 live album, Earth, into an ecological rallying cry -- he decided to record an entire album of outrage at the Orange One in 2017, roping in his new backing band, Promise of the Real, for support. The Visitor never disguises Young's disgust with the direction America is headed. Neil calls out Trump for destroying the things he holds dear and he peppers the album with twists on rallying cries from the 2016 election: the record opens up with a declaration that America is "Already Great," and by the end, Young and Promise of the Real are chanting "Lock Him Up" in an echo of the chant Michael Flynn led at the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2016. All of these touches give The Visitor specificity and immediacy, but it's hardly an album of stark folk songs. Young tries a little bit of everything here, murmuring along with a strummed acoustic, stumbling through a blues shuffle, hiring a choir and orchestra to weigh down "Children of Destiny," hamming it up with his band for an eight-minute dustbowl epic called "Carnival." Every one of these constant detours is interesting, thanks in large part to Promise of the Real. Where Crazy Horse lumbered, the Promise are fleet on their feet, so they're able to lend a sense of adventure to The Visitor, and its musicality is what's tantalizing about the album -- it's just supple enough to highlight how Young isn't bothering to get to the second draft of his songs. What lasts with The Visitor are texture and asides, how the band is able to elevate the songs to seem like they matter. Inspected individually, it all falls apart. Young doesn't mold his melodies or thoughts into something grander than impulse, which is why The Visitor seems fascinating upon the first listen, but tiresome upon repeats. Neil is making music for the moment and he doesn't much care if it lasts beyond that day or not, and while living in the moment is a good way to get through life, it doesn't do much for albums.

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