"One of the most ambitious works of his career...a great artist once again at the peak of his game." (Chicago Tribune) "Young has rarely sounded so fresh and inspired...an uncompromising artist with the courage to follow his muse." (Chicago Sun Times) For the first time in his storied career, Neil Young has created a fictional place filled with characters and incidents and written an album about them. The album, and the place, is Greendale and the people are the Green family. The songs are among the most personal he's ever penned, ranging from the dark and biting to the light and humorous. Still surprising and still stirring it up, Young adds a stunning new album to his place in rock history with Greendale.
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