NEIL YOUNG x 3: Living With War, Living With War: In The Beginning & Living With War: Live (2006)

Neil Young’s a guy who’s willing to artistically put himself on the line, repeatedly. His process varies – acoustic vs. electric, songs vs. sounds, personal vs. social-political, audio vs. video, fully considered vs. quickly recorded…. it’s kinda endless when you analyze the bulk of his career. As a result of not continually playing it safe, Neil has, naturally, had his share of duds. But, there are two sales clunkers in his catalog that I’ve found particularly disappointing. Mirror Ball (Young’s highly anticipated union with Pearl Jam) is one. The other, for much the same reason, is Living With War. I wanted to like this album; the Crazy Horse rock, the instant global messaging (ala CSN&Y’s “Ohio”), even the politics – which far too many were afraid to openly address themselves. Just ask Natalie Maines about it. Living With War finds Young capturing a moment in time, quickly… and he apparently elected to forgo much in the way of self-editing, second-guessing or stringent quality control. Artistically admirable – and something I’d like any of my favorite artists to do – but despite this album’s promise on paper, it continually fails to move me.  The results aren’t awful, but Living With War‘s melodies just plain refuse to take root in this cranium. Despite how much I’ve tried. Just months after its release, Neil re-issued a stripped version, initially entitled Raw, then later, Living With War – In The Beginning. I liked that idea, too – removing the odd Mexicali horns and getting Crazier with the rawness – but, it still doesn’t stick. My third crack at these tunes is Living With War – Live, originally from The Big O. A collection of audience recordings designed to closely (though, not exactly) replicate the album. The live energy was what I hoped might push these songs over the top for me, and there are some good moments – but it’s got a booty, arena quality (some more than others) that will only get so much ear time around these parts. You can hear an example (all three versions of “Families”) below to see how it all works for you. Then tell me what I’m missing. Click the links or the covers for Amazon access.

Living With War (2006)
The Original Release

After The Garden (3:24)
Living With War (5:05)
The Restless Consumer (5:48)
Shock And Awe (4:53)
Families (2:26)
Flags Of Freedom (3:43)
Let’s Impeach The President (5:10)
Lookin’ For A Leader (4:03)
Roger And Out (4:25)
America The Beautiful (2:57)

Living With War – In The Beginning
The Raw Re-Release

After The Garden (3:27)
Living With War (5:10)
The Restless Consumer (5:52)
Shock And Awe (4:58)
Families (2:34)
Flags Of Freedom (3:48)
Let’s Impeach The President (4:33)
Lookin’ For A Leader (4:10)
Roger And Out (4:25)

Living With War – Live (2006)
Unreleased Fan Version

Flags Of Freedom (4:07)
After The Garden (3:30)
Living With War (5:18)
The Restless Consumer (6:48)
Shock And Awe (4:40)
Families (2:57)
Lookin’ For A Leader  (3:50)
Roger And Out (5:22)
Star Spangled Banner (3:04)
Let’s Impeach The President (5:31)
Rocking In The Free World (11:13)


  • Willard
    November 21, 2011 - 09:05 | Permalink

    Find it all HERE

  • Le G Freak
    November 21, 2011 - 12:53 | Permalink

    Can’t help you about Living with War, and album i haven’t understood either.
    But i like Mirror Ball a lot – though maybe not exactly as a Neil Young album.
    but my personal story (this was my first meeting with his music, i was quite more Pearl Jam at the time) surely has an influence to these feelings.
    I wasn’t aware of the existence of the Raw LwW, so thanks !

  • Willard
    November 21, 2011 - 12:57 | Permalink

    Maybe that was my issue with Mirror Ball. I was listening more for a Neil Young album.

  • buzz baby jesus
    November 21, 2011 - 14:06 | Permalink

    “Families” is a second rate song that’s all. It doesn’t flow and there aren’t any hooks. It’s not that hard to put a song’s worth of ideas together. You got your verse-chorus-bridge-middle eight-verse-chorus and out. With that formula you can write songs all day. Thing is for them to be any good the individual parts need to be worth listening to. That’s what riffs and hooks are for. This has neither. Who cares about the lyrics when there’s nothing to hang them on?
    I’m a fan of Neil, but his batting average is actually pretty low.

  • Muddy
    November 21, 2011 - 22:24 | Permalink

    LWW was a nice idea with mediocre execution. It was good to hear someone taking a strong stand though. How many Ohio’s does a songwriter get in a career?

  • November 21, 2011 - 22:45 | Permalink

    I’ve always found that Mirror Ball was an excellent NY album, one of my faves. Although I really don’t count myself as a PJ fan.

    My thoughts on LWW: see Muddy above.

    • Willard
      November 21, 2011 - 23:00 | Permalink

      I can’t remember Mirror Ball’s songs either, until they’re playing.

  • PolkSaladTranny
    November 22, 2011 - 01:13 | Permalink

    The “Mirror Ball” was disappointing after all the Complex/Ranch Ragged Glory and that 1993 MTV Video Music Awards. Neil’s 2003 “Greendale” concept video/opera was not. Just ask that Natalie Maines chick about it.

    • Willard
      November 22, 2011 - 09:27 | Permalink

      Maines… thank you. I was thinking of someone else. And, you’re right, that Ragged Glory stuff was some of his best. Everything sounded a little weaker next to that material.

  • November 22, 2011 - 01:28 | Permalink

    I didn’t mean to hijack this into a Mirror Ball post Willard, but here we are.

    Why I like Mirror Ball.

    1] The playing of PJ compliments NY wonderfully, fully fitting in with Neil’s longstated aversion to “chops” players and preference for “feel” players. In particular, I’ve always loved Jack Irons’ drumming on this album. Powerful, yet understated [example: I’m The Ocean]

    2] “I’m the Ocean.” Love this song. Sounds nonsensical at times, but not enough to bother. I’ve always felt that many of Young’s better lyrics leave room for open interpretation. Plus, I love that he used the same melody for the very short “Fallen Angel” that closes the album.

    3] Someone else wrote this, but I think it fits it well:

    “The albums flaws are inextricably linked to its strengths. Spontaneity and passion are there in abundance, but there are more bum notes and undeveloped songs than usual. Young sounds like he is battling against the clock, as if he realizes that the collaboration is a now or never event. That tension provides the album with its distinctive edge while also robbing it of greater glory.”

    Anyway, I enjoy it immensely. Neil has so many albums in so many styles that you can always find a champion for any one of them. I have a lot of friends who like Harvest Moon and I can’t fathom why. I think HM is coma inducing and should be sold by prescription only.

    • Willard
      November 22, 2011 - 09:41 | Permalink

      Except that I can’t remember the tunes (it’s been a while) I wouldn’t argue with any of what you’ve posted. But much of the review you quoted isn’t actually very ringing (“That tension provides the album with its distinctive edge while also robbing it of greater glory.”) That almost sounds like something I would have written to put a positive spin on something I wasn’t totally getting. I haven’t gone back-to-back listening, but I think I was much warmer to Mirror Ball than Living With War. War is a lot more naked, and the weaknesses (or just the simplicity) of the material is more glaring. Mirror Ball was more of a racket, like a band locked in a room, and that mixture means more variety and angles. Living With War has kind of a one-note feel. One idea, one concept, one crack at recording and then it’s over. I don’t know… maybe I should probably just listen more and stop analyzing.

  • November 22, 2011 - 06:26 | Permalink

    Hey Willard — I agree with your overall sentiments about Living With The War. What made Ohio stand out back in the day is that it was a single and they didn’t create a whole album around it. Young’s attempt to nail something to a tree here just doesn’t work. One last thing: I appreciated your candor in this post. I think if you’re a true fan of someone, you never hesitate to be honest about their music.

    • Willard
      November 22, 2011 - 09:43 | Permalink

      Excellent point. The album does sound stretched thin.

  • November 22, 2011 - 11:14 | Permalink

    I’m not sure if the review part I ripped is ringing either…but I do find it apt. I was much less enthused by any of the live boots I acquired documenting the NY/PJ union than the studio album proper.

    • Willard
      November 22, 2011 - 11:37 | Permalink

      That’s even more interesting. I would’ve thought live they’d be more.

  • November 23, 2011 - 16:58 | Permalink

    Just for the sake of variety, I’m a fan of both Neil Young and ‘Living With War’. I was so thrilled to hear someone singing “Let’s impeach the president” when so many others were cowering in fear that I put it in my year’s end top ten for chutzpah alone.

    I admit it would’ve made a better EP than album, but I can say that about nearly every album I hear these days.

  • Jerry Lee
    November 24, 2011 - 12:08 | Permalink

    I know he means well, but this song is just flat. For some reason “Families” reminds me of Springsteen’s “No Surrender”, but it’s a slower, dull version. Maybe Neil wasn’t angry enough to push it over the top, I dunno.

  • Adam Dean
    January 22, 2013 - 22:25 | Permalink

    I think you are all missing the point here – with the perspective of looking back in time now we can see that Neil was trying to seize the moment away from George W. Bush and his hell-bent for oil domination policies – seen any WMD’s, have you? The album Living With War will never be anyone’s favorite Neil Young creation, but the fact that he released it at all – and toured with it in the face of hostile crowds (I saw the live show and I can tell you some of the fans booed loudly at “Let’s Impeach The President”) was a tremendous creative accomplishment that must be respected. Thanks, Neil.

    • Willard
      January 23, 2013 - 00:13 | Permalink

      What you’re describing is a bold and brave social statement, not a “tremendous creative accomplishment.” If it were the latter, it wouldn’t already be a forgotten entry in his catalog. It’s like I said in the text… I WANTED to like this album for a host of reasons. I was already on Neil’s side, both artistically AND politically. But… he just didn’t deliver the goods with this work (and that’s not a one-listen dismissal). I blame his process. I think he was trusting his “first” artistic instincts – and dismissed quality control in the process. In a way – and this is pure speculation – he may have been attempting to replicate a previous “tremendous creative accomplishment”…”Ohio.” A song instantly written and instantly recorded and instantly released. It became a touchstone of the era… and was catchy as hell to boot. Living With War is neither, and it’s because the songs don’t resonate with listeners. Maybe some… but not enough to deem it a creative success. It may be a success to Neil in just being able to express himself, and for that he should be applauded. But… if most don’t even remember the album or even want to revisit it, it’s “accomplishment” is diminished. But… that’s just one perspective.

  • Adam Dean
    January 24, 2013 - 20:36 | Permalink

    I just listened to it again (the “raw” version) – just listened through the words and music, and found myself enjoying it – certainly not a regular ‘lsiten’ but I am much less a fan a TRANS (have never listened to it again) than I am of Living With War. Perhaps having just finished reading Neil’s book I am feeling rather open to suggestion? In any event it will remain in my collection. As always, you are on the ball with your perceptive comments Cap’n.

    • Willard
      January 24, 2013 - 20:48 | Permalink

      That’s funny. Just last night I saw the CSN&Y Deja vu movie, which was all about this album and the tour behind it. And hearing the lyrics and the context in which Neil wrote all of this – and seeing some live performances (not to mention crying vets) – has helped me to warm up to this, as well. I guess contextual placement can do that. It was interesting to see some of what I was just guessing at was the case, the connection with “Ohio” and the instant writing and recording of the LP, namely. But… that wasn’t hard to guess at by hearing it, which is still part of the problem for me. But… hearing a song on disc that is repetitive and simplistic is one thing. Hearing that same song performed live in front of its intended listeners (vets, family and Bush haters) is a different perspective. The repetition becomes a rallying cry, while the simplicity becomes the focal point for the message. I’m still not a convert, but I understand it a little better… and that might be all it takes. Thanks AD.

  • Adam Dean
    February 2, 2013 - 22:09 | Permalink

    Now TRANS, that’s another matter entirely….that one may remain in the closet forever.

  • Matt
    May 7, 2014 - 00:43 | Permalink

    I really enjoy the live album. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Tony
    February 5, 2016 - 15:53 | Permalink

    Well. Living With War is one of my favourite NY albums. I love the songs, the overall sound of the album and the choir sends shivers down my spine. Stand out tracks are Living With War, Let’s Impeach The President and Families.

    • Willard
      February 5, 2016 - 16:22 | Permalink

      Just curious, Tony… are you an old, or a new, NY fan.

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