Are You Passionate?


‘Let’s roll for Freedom
Let’s roll for Love
We’re goin’ after Satan
On the wings of a dove.’

The chief talking point behind this latest Neil Young release is of course the 9-11 related song, “Let’s Roll.” Young has never shied away from commenting on current events that touch his heart in his songs – eg. The Kent State deaths in “Ohio” & Kurt Cobain’s suicide in “Sleeps with Angels.” Thus, “Let’s Roll” is inspired by the last words of a cell phone call from Todd Beamer, a passenger on Flight 93 who led an attack on terrorists, foiling their presumed plan to strike a Washington D.C. target on that fateful day in September 2001.  

“Let’s Roll” begins ominously with a cell phone ringing before Young and band launch into a blues-inflected rocker describing the events on Flight 93 and Young’s own perspective of Beamer and the other passengers’ acts of bravery. As usual, Young has courted controversy in his decision to cover this tragedy in his music but faithful Young watchers would have been disappointed if he did not.  

The spirit behind the courage and bravery that inspired “Let’s Roll” is very much the central theme of this album as epitomised by the title track. 

‘Are you passionate?
Are you livin’ like you talk
Are you dreamin’ how
That you’re goin’ to the top?’

Obviously, the events of 9-11 have had a profound effect on Young and these feelings are reflected in many songs here. From the paternal affection of “You’re My Girl” to the matrimonial affirmation of “When I Hold You In My Arms,” from the philosophical rumination of “Differently” to the cautious optimism of “Mr. Disappointment,” Young speaks not just from the perspective of a fiftysomething musician but quite clearly encapsulates the thoughts of many in these troubled, uncertain times where concerns turn to loved ones and the things that matter. 

Musically, the backing of three quarters of Booker T and the MGs viz. Duck Dunn (bass); Steve Potts (drums) & of course Booker T Jones (organ) – with noted Young associate Frank Sampedro subbing for Steve Cropper on guitar – provides an unexpected soulful inflection to Young’s trademark folk-rock mix giving Young’s usually ragged glory a smoother than usual foundation.  

Which serves well many of the themes explored and works particularly for “Quit (Don’t Say You Love Me),” “Mr. Disappointment,” “Be With You” & “She’s A Healer.” Young’s three chord riffs are still very much evident as are his distinctive vocal style and his fuzzy guitar licks but credit to Booker T & the MGs for giving Young a new dimension that succeeds. 

Are You Passionate? is the sound of an artist remaining true to himself and his current circumstances. Certainly one of Young’s finer efforts of the last couple of years. No classic but essential for fans of the great man. (B)