|Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Greendale|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Jeff Fish|
|Tuesday, 16 March 2004|
Neil Young is one of those artists who I’m always anxious to see what he’s up to. His music defies category. The Neil Young music catalogue runs from country to heavy metal and always with the highest level of musicianship and songwriting. So what’s Young up to now, you might be asking yourself. How does a rock opera (or play, depending on your viewpoint) sound to you? Well, that is exactly what he’s up to now, with the expected results.
A couple of years ago, I read an interview with Young, who was speaking about his approach to songwriting, very stream of consciousness. He talked about how, when he writes now, he’s trying to get his point across in the song without too much embellishment. He’ll wait for the next artist to take the song to next level. I’m not sure if Young is continuing to do this, but with Greendale, he has laid out a very cohesive story with some exceptionally good music to accompany it.
The basic storyline here is based around the fictional town of Greendale and the Green family. Greendale is a town of 20,000 to 25,000 people, with all the things that go on in a town that size. It’s basically a good place to live and raise a family, but as in case of any opera (or play), there has to be some strife. By the third song “Devil’s Sidewalk,” we see that the Devil has arrived in town, or as Young puts it, “He’s probably been here the whole time.” By the fourth song, we have the event in which the story is centered around. Jed Green accidentally kills a police officer in “Leave the Driving.” In listening to this disc, I found myself being captivated as much by the story as by the music, something to be honest I wasn’t expecting.
The mix of this disc is very inviting. It’s like you’re sitting in the studio with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. How cool is that? In the first couple of songs, the mix comes across pretty much like a standard CD. But in “Devil’s Sidewalk,” you start to really notice that the band seems to be moving around the room, not in the song itself or in any grand “quadraphonic experiment” but from song to song, almost as though you’re moving around the city with the characters. There are some subtle things going with the mix as well, like hearing a police siren moving diagonally, or the sound of the city in the distance. But the mix invites you in, not forcing itself on you. With “Leave the Driving” and “Charmichael,” the emotional content of the album is making itself present -- very convincingly, I might add. With “Bandit,” Jed meets the Devil in jail and the way Young uses music to convey this unpleasantness is really very inspiring. He has always had a way of playing depressing-sounding music without the depression. There are highlights to life, just as there are low lights, and they both deserve their place in art. With this album, Young puts them both on display beautifully. The album really has a very cohesive melodic tone to it -- all the songs relate to one another and sound like they belong together.
Another thing I like about the way this album sounds to me is the rawness of it all. Young’s music always has a way of sounding like the song you’re hearing is being played for the very first time. This disc doesn’t change that perception; in fact, it solidifies it. On the bonus video for “Devil’s Sidewalk,” you’re watching Neil Young and Crazy Horse play live in Young’s personal studio, as though they are rehearsing the song for the first time (in fact, I think they are…). There are some artists who can get away with it. In my book, Young is the king of that and I hope he continues to do it for a very long time. By the time we’re at the end of the album, there’s so much story and music going on that I felt like I had watched a movie. There are megaphones shooting across the stereo spectrum diagonally, backing vocals moving around us in a semi-circle and of course Neil Young’s guitar as the glue that holds it all together.
I’ve had a couple of friends who saw this Greendale tour last summer and they both said the same thing: Neil Young is at the top of his game. Not just in terms songwriting and arrangements, which you’d expect, but also in performing this music. You can tell just by the packaging of this album that this is an album is more than just a collection of songs. This is the work of a true original American artist whose time hasn’t yet passed him by. Young continues to push the boundaries of music and, for anyone who has enjoyed his work previously, this DVD-A is well worth the investment. And for anyone who isn’t familiar with Young’s work, this would be a great introduction to one of the most original artist’s in rock and roll history. As far as the DVD menus, there are some issues with sections not being highlighted. I couldn’t tell if I was on the photos, lyrics or main menu part until I hit the enter button on my remote. But once the music started I didn’t care -- all I cared about was Greendale what happens with the Green family. I can’t wait to listen to it again.