Neil Young takes on Monsanto and Walmart in latest album

New York - Far from mellowing at nearly 70, Neil Young has taken up his electric guitar for a frontal assault on the power of big corporations including Monsanto and Walmart.

While the Canadian folk rock giant has long been known for left-of-centre politics, the new album is extraordinary in its directness by attacking specific companies, down to the title, The Monsanto Years.

On the album, which was being released yesterday, Young casts himself as the champion of family farmers, mom-and-pop shops and ordinary consumers whom he believes are getting hoodwinked by powerful corporations.

"From the Capitol to the boarded-up main streets / Corporations are felt at every turn," he sings on Big Box. "From the food we eat to clothes we wear to the TV screen / From the air we breathe to the fuel we burn," he sings.

He singles out retail behemoth Walmart - a key target of activists for its proliferation in small towns, low-rung wages and hostility to labour unions.

But he reserves his most pointed criticism for Monsanto, the St Louis-based leader in genetically modified seeds and herbicides.

Imagining a farmer at a Safeway grocery store, Young sings: "Dreams of the past come flooding back to the farmer's mind / His father and mother / The family seeds they used to save were gifts from God / Not Monsanto."

He readily acknowledges on the album that he could have chosen more placid subject matter.

Over a hard-rocking backdrop, he sings in his ever-warbly voice: "Don't talk about the corporations / Hijacking all your rights / People want to hear about love."

In fact, the prolific songwriter headed partially in that direction on his previous album, last year's Storytone, in which he brought in string arrangements to celebrate his newfound love - for actress and activist Daryl Hannah - after the end of his 36-year marriage.

But Young, who turns 70 in November, is hardly one to pull away from a fight.

The Monsanto Years features a song promoting his call to boycott Starbucks.

Young has attacked the coffee giant over a lawsuit to overturn the state of Vermont's first-in-the-nation law to require labelling of genetically modified foods.

The lawsuit was filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association industry group, of which Starbucks is a member, but the Seattle company has said it does not support the action and has been active in the fight on another environmental issue, climate change.

For its part, Monsanto invited Young for a discussion.

"Many of us at Monsanto have been and are fans of Neil Young. Unfortunately, for some of us, his current album may fail to reflect our strong beliefs in what we do every day to help make agriculture more sustainable," a company spokesman said.

"We recognise there is a lot of misinformation about who we are and what we do - and unfortunately several of those myths seem to be captured in these lyrics," she said.

Most mainstream scientists say that genetically modified food is not known to carry health risks.

Young, like many activists, is especially concerned about corporate control over agriculture.

The album comes days after the singer became embroiled in a feud as Donald Trump - the tetchy tycoon whose politics are the antithesis of the singer's - played Young's classic Rockin' In The Free World as he announced his bid for the White House.

Young, a Canadian citizen, said he supports left-leaning Democratic contender Bernie Sanders and chastised Trump for using the song - which, on careful listening, is an indictment of homelessness and other social ills in the Reagan-Bush era.

In a statement, he said corporate players were subverting democracy - especially since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision slashed restrictions on campaign contributions.

"I do not trust self-serving misinformation coming from corporations and their media trolls. I do not trust politicians who are taking millions from those corporations either," said Young, who is nonetheless signed to a major label, Warner Music.

"I trust people. So I make my music for people, not for candidates," he said.

Agence France-Presse