The Legends of Laurel Canyon
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best
Transfiguration of Vincent
Christmas in the Heart
Glitter and Doom Live
Let It Roll: The Best of George Harrison
Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
Playing for Change
One thing that can certainly be said about Neil Young’s approach to making music is that he is passionate. Whether pursuing the vulnerability of albums like "After the Goldrush" and "Comes a Time", or the raw guts of albums like "Tonight’s the Night" and "Rust Never Sleeps", he almost always sounds passionate about what he is doing. So, what went wrong here? "Are You Passionate" is neither vulnerable nor gutsy, and worse yet, it isn’t passionate. Instead, it holds a semi-funky middle ground that most resembles his least effective work from the mid-‘80s ("Landing On Water", et. al). Whether it is due to age or indifference, his voice sounds much more wavery than usual throughout this album, as though he were distracted by his surroundings.
Maybe the problem lies with the band. At first glance, this just doesn’t seem as though it would make any sense. After all, these are seasoned musicians, some of the best and most well known players of the past forty years. Booker T. Jones and Duck Dunn were on the ground floor when Memphis funk was invented, representing one half of the legendary Booker T. and the MG’s, so we’re not talking slackers here. However, it seems as though Young thought it best to let these musicians do what they do best, so Young’s own style is buried beneath the stylized playing of his backup musicians. No less than three different songs on "Are You Passionate?" suggest Booker T. and the MG’s "Time Is Tight". "You’re My Girl," "Differently", and "Be With You" all share an identical rhythmic thrust. Only "Be With You" breaks away enough to suggest a distillation of the Supremes’ "Come See About Me" (which happens to be almost identical to "Time Is Tight" anyway!).
A couple of blues vamps fatten things out, but it never really sounds as though Neil is really in charge. Instead, he sounds like a singer brought in to sing over rhythm tracks, but none of the melodies hold any weight at all, and get drowned in the relentlessly driving rhythms, which typically ramble on for six, seven, eight minutes, without ever really going anywhere. I’ve been following Young’s career for three and a half decades, and I know from experience that Neil Young can’t make a truly bad album. He does occasionally lose his artistic focus, though, and I’m sorry to say that it’s the case here. Neil, I just know you can do better. Are you (still) passionate?