Last time we heard from Neil Young, in the film ''Heart of Gold," he was in Nashville, a jowly, aging hippie who had survived a brain aneurysm so he could sing softly, offer homespun anecdotes, and get ready for the AARP's next outreach campaign. In Jonathan Demme's concert documentary, the Godfather of Grunge became Grampy Neil.
That was February. This month, Young decided that President Bush must be stopped. And a single protest song, as Pink and the Rolling Stones have offered in recent months, wouldn't do. Hence, Young's punk protest, ''Living With War," an album so hastily recorded that instead of coming out on a Tuesday, the industry's standard release date, it's being put out as soon as Reprise can press and ship it to stores. For now, you can hear ''Living With War" streamed for free at www.neilyoung.com.
Young has never hidden his politics. Other than the odd curveball -- his right-wing slant on 1980's ''Hawks & Doves" -- Young is a hippie at heart. He hammered President Nixon after the Kent State killings on 1970's ''Ohio," and savaged President Bush, Version 1.0, on 1989's ''Rockin' in the Free World."
In this post-FM age, ''Living With War" might not resonate like those earlier protest songs. But it's more committed, so much so that it's both heartbreaking and manipulative, cathartic and clumsy all at once. The segment of Young's audience that misses electric Neil is likely to be pleased. So will the yappers on Fox News, who need a nightly target. Pity the White House aide who loads one of these tracks onto the Presidential iPod.
Because, as Young sees it, Bush is a lying, hypocritical windbag whose war strategy has led to thousands of deaths, and whose domestic policies have been ''dividing our country into colors, and still leaving black people neglected."
The music on ''Living With War" harks back to Young's longtime backing band, Crazy Horse, even if they aren't playing on it. But there are two unexpected musical flourishes -- a guest trumpet player and the occasional use of a 100-person choir. When the horn is smartly placed, the solos evoke ''Taps" at a military funeral. When it isn't, the trumpet sticks out like a mariachi band at a bar mitzvah.
The same goes for Young's much-publicized choir. The concept works on the punky sing-along, ''Let's Impeach the President," where the voices add a metaphoric weight, as if these many, diverse singers are registering their own exit poll. Here Young samples Bush in a series of contradictory sound clips, breaking them up with the choir's alternating shouts of ''flip" and ''flop." But on other tracks, the choir muddies the music, especially on the title song and on ''The Restless Consumer," a commentary on a world he feels has been overrun by Madison Avenue types.
By the fourth song, it's a relief to hear Young's croaky voice backed only by the power trio. After all, he doesn't need anybody else to communicate the anger in the driving ''Shock and Awe," which links the iconic phrase with the notorious,''Mission Accomplished" speech by Bush atop an aircraft carrier. On the electric hoedown ''Lookin' for a Leader," Young considers the options for the political future. Who, he asks, can reunite the country? ''Maybe it's Obama. But he thinks that he's too young. Maybe it's Colin Powell. To right what he's done wrong."
The disc's strongest link to the folk song tradition comes on ''Flags of Freedom." In interviews, Young has cited his frustration with younger musicians for failing to take on the system. (Apparently, he hasn't heard the latest from the Flaming Lips, Mark Erelli, Pearl Jam, Green Day, or Dixie Chicks.) He also credits the late Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan as inspirations. With Dylan more likely to take part in another Victoria's Secret commercial than get political, Young yanks the old master into the fray. ''Flags" is an unapologetic take on Dylan's ''Chimes of Freedom," a mainstay of the Vietnam-era protest canon.
In Young's song, a soldier walks off to war. His sister watches, her headphones on. What's she listening to? ''Bob Dylan singin' in 1963."
Geoff Edgers can be reached at email@example.com