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Greendale – Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Reprise Records 48533-2

It's been a blessing and curse to have heard the tunes from "Greendale"
several weeks ahead of its proper release date. Thanks to CD trades, I heard
a
couple of Neil Young's European acoustic shows. The intimacy of the format,
along
with his explanations of the characters and its storyline set me up for the
electric studio version he made with two-thirds of his longtime musical
compadres
in Crazy Horse. (Initial pressings contain a bonus dvd of a Dublin, Ireland
performance.)

Thankfully, Young evens things up for new listeners by offering dramatic
background for each track in the compact disc's booklet.

Still, some things induce the feeling of d vu all over again. The
first run through Greendale, and its emphasis on narrative does
create the
effect of old time radio when a listener would sit nearby in anticipation of
the
unfolding adventures. It works to best effect on "Carmichael" and its
remembrance of a fallen police officer.

Here, it's a visit to the fictional place of Greendale U.S.A., a place
that one presumes existed near Mayberry, and may have even been visited by
Andy,
Opie and Aunt Bee. But it's the 21st century and "progress" has invaded the
town — drug trafficking, murder and the ensuing media onslaught. Grandpa
presents a lone conscience to this situation. And his legacy is that his
views and
outrage at what modern society has become lives on in his granddaughter.

The characters are part of a broad artistic palette which Young employs to
criticize pre-emptive wars, the destruction of the environment, apathy in
the
electorate and a media that is more than content to stampede towards what's
sensational rather than do any legitimate homework on issues that really
affect our
lives.

Presenting his views in this manner gives them the kind of depth that
would fall on to deaf ears among those who are disinterested by musicians
spouting their beliefs.

Because Greendale is more of an unfolding story than concept album,
the
songs generally do not have that feeling of being able to stand alone (i.e.
The Who's Tommy) There is too much exposition going on, which becomes
the
album's greatest friend and foe. Damn, if I haven't gone back and immersed
myself
within this imaginary region that's all too familiar again and again. Yet
I'm
not as strongly attracted to it in the same manner as past Young albums
because the songs haven't pulled me in on a pure hummable melodic level.

That doesn't mean that "Falling from the Above," "Bandit" or "Be the
Rain" couldn't go on to become concert staples. "Falling" bears the classic
loose
feel of Crazy Horse material, "Bandit" contains the whimsy and soft-hearted
positivity found on some of his past acoustic work, and "Rain" could go on
to
become the next "Rockin' in the Free World." (It's unfortunate that it
wasn't
produced in that same fiery manner on the album.)

Still, when one considers the state of music, the underwhelming
intelligence of the American people in regards to what corporations and its
government
are really doing, and the fragile ability to criticize those who reside in
the
Beltway, let alone in the White House, I applaud Young's lofty ambitions.
Greendale is worth a visit. Whether you care to settle down and put
down roots is
another matter.

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