Truth be told, I generally dislike concept Rock albums. Highly regarded records such as Tommy and The Wall seem pretentious and overblown - to me. At first glance, Neil Young's Greendale appears a likely candidate for such reactions as well. However, whatever avenue the uncompromising Young chooses to cruise down, it always seems to work. I freely admit to enjoying even his lackluster efforts of the early 80s. I think the trick with concept albums is not to bite off more than one can chew and to keep themes simple and relevant without letting ego(s) out of control. On Greendale, Young interweaves a thoroughly inspired commentary of social, political and environmental issues into the personal stories of citizens in small-town U.S.A. He does so without offering grand, idealistic solutions. That's the listener's job.
Released in 2003, Greendale received mostly positive reviews. Of all the aging rock stars from the 60s, Neil Young has remained as relevant and vital as he was 30 years ago. Unlike the Rolling Stones who have long ceased being relevant, Neil is still inspired and full of piss and vinegar. He maintains a terrific sense of humor, too. It also helps that he writes songs that anyone can relate to. You wouldn't know Young was a millionaire from his down-to-earth lyrics and the somewhat laconic style of his delivery.
Greendale is the story of a small fictional seaside town in California and specifically, the Green family. There's the activist daughter Sun Green, the cop-killer cousin Jed Green and grandma Thibodeaux. My favorite is the cantankerous Arius grandpa Green who tries to scare off the invading media hordes from his property with a shotgun.
On Greendale, Young's themes are environmental exploitation, specifically the Bush administration's plan to exploit the pristine wilderness of Alaska for oil exploration and extraction; the intrusive nature of the media; a government increasingly obsessed with surveillance of its citizens; and Young's familiar themes of family, love, hope and freedom. While there are no hit singles, the songs are for the most part well constructed and have a tight, cohesive feel that dovetails perfectly with the album's themes. The closing number "Be The Rain" is a classic rousing-fist pumping anthem reminiscent of Young's "Rockin' In The Free World". Here Young sings, "Save the planet for another day/Attention shoppers, buy with a conscience and save/Save the planet for another day/Save Alaska. Let the caribou stay/Don't care what the governments say/They're all bought and paid for anyway/Save the planet for another day/Hey Big Oil, what do you say?"
While Young offers no solutions to these very real issues, he at least attempts to raise awareness and encourage participation: "'You can make a difference; if you really try... We got a job to do. We got to save Mother Earth". On "Grandpa's Interview", Young rails against the media: "TV crews and cameras/They wanted to interview Grandpa on the porch/They came through the gate and up on the lawn/Knocking' down Edith's tiki torch/Grandpa saw them there/Looking through the Venetian blinds/Those people don't have any respect/So they won't get any of mine.
I ain't gonna talk about Jed.../I don't watch channel 2 or 6 or 9/I don't have time to talk that fast/And it ain't my crime. It ain't an honor to be on TV/And it ain't a duty either/The only good thing about TV/Is shows like 'Leave it to Beaver' /Shows with love and affection/Like mama used to say/A little Mayberry living/Can go a long way."
Greendale has a loose, laid-back, let-the-tape-roll feel, as if the listener was eavesdropping on a late-night jam session. Most of the tracks are simple bluesy tracks with plenty of tasty guitar licks and shuffling rhythms. Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot join Young's thick, distorted guitar sound in this loose yet lively set.
This deluxe 200g vinyl issue of Greendale is the first release of a joint project between Classic Records and Young's Vapor Records label. The LPs were mastered and cut from analog master tapes by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering. Along with the 3 LPs, a 24-page booklet, a show bill from the live concert, a bumper sticker and a 7" single on colored vinyl all are contained in the box. Sonics are stunning as one would expect from Classic Records' 200g QUIEX SV-P vinyl. I cannot imagine any CD sounding anywhere as dynamic as this. As per Neil's customary style, all tracks were recorded live in his studio without isolation booths, overdubs or funny stuff. Analog loving Neil Young fans need not hesitate.