On paper, Greendale
doesn't sound like one of Neil Young's better ideas: a whimsical concept album-cum-community theatre piece that mixes his cosy view of small-town America--insular, sentimental, occasionally xenophobic--with well-meaning if woolly anti-corporate, pro-environment sloganeering. Such clarity of purpose rarely suits Young. Indeed, the eco-hymn "Be the Rain" makes After the Goldrush
sound more gnomic than ever. But what Greendale
lacks in mystique, it makes up for with love and eccentricity. Though his voice is thinner than ever, Young sounds more engaged than he has in years--certainly more so than on the sleepwalking slush of 2001's Are You Passionate
--and the obvious pleasure he takes from his grand idea here is enough to carry you through the album's ropier passages.
Young's peculiar blend of control-freakery and sloppiness ensure Greendale is raw where concept albums are usually over-polished. Crazy Horse play with that bewildering naivety so typical of them, and the wrinkled spirit that they and Young bring to "Devil's Sidewalk" and the beautifully aimless "Carmichael" makes you forgive most of their self-indulgences. Even the spellbindingly crass "Be the Rain" is redeemed by Young interrupting the platitudes sung by his wife, as he bawls semi-coherently through a megaphone. There are signs, too--especially in the thoughtful "Bandit"--that he's smuggling very personal reflections on age into what initially appears to be a detached drama (much as Lou Reed, an unlikely fellow traveller, did on his underrated The Raven). Try and circumnavigate the schtick: this is the most endearing Neil Young album for some time. --John Mulvey
NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE Greendale (2003 Korean limited edition CD/DVD set including 10-track CD plus bonus NTSC DVD featuring Neil Young solo at Vicar Street Dublin picture sleeve and stickered shrink)