Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Return To Greendale: Album Review

Neil Young releases the next installment in his ‘performance series’, with a live rendition of the Greendale album.

Release date: 6th November 2020

Label: Warner Records / Reprise

Format: CD / vinyl / deluxe set with DVD + Bluray

Coming from a huge archive and adding to a similarly large library of official releases, the set features a concert from the unique 2003 tour. One that went out supporting the release of the Neil Young + Crazy Horse album Greendale. It finds Neil taking up one of his many phase/faces/guises that some have had their fun in labelling Greendale as Young’s indulgent folly, cruelly renaming it as ‘Emmerdale’.

On the 2003 tour, Neil Young and Crazy Horse were joined on stage by a large cast of singers and actors to perform the story Neil Young wrote about the small town of Greendale and how a dramatic event affects the people living there.

The ten songs from the original album are performed in sequence, with the cast speaking the sung words in sets built around the stage and appearing on large screen behind the band. The small-town rock opera plays out the narrative in a roughly hewn fashion that reflects the nature and vibe of the music and the characters. We follow the ordinary folk – Grandma, Grandpa, Edith, Earl, the doomed Jed, and eco-warrior Sun Green – as they try to save the environment which naturally, has become more urgent.

Out of necessity, the songs follow the original Greendale script and sequence pretty much with the option of a few opportunities to let rip although the performance is warmly loose. The perfection is in the lack of polish, as ever with Neil with some live muscle added to the studio work. It was always one of those albums that divided fans. No way was it ranking with the best of his work, some feeling that it pandered to a whim; an indulgence in having a full-blown concept across the gamut of media, even a dedicated website. Others might have been sated by the aspects that stuck to Young tropes in the lyrical theme and dense musical raggedness.

The criticism that the mini-opera is a little one-paced and with a lack of acoustic artistry to vary the palette is a minor point. However, it does allow a focus on the ecological theme of the story and chance to appreciate the nuances of the characters while Young and Crazy Horse knock out the soundtrack. Amidst the distorted fuzz and no nonsense time signatures, Some parts are genuinely touching and many will empathise as news of Grandpa’s death is reylayed via a news programme.

Unless you’ve splashed out on the deluxe set, you’ll have to cross your fingers on getting a separate release for the film although the wonders of Youtube give a glimpse (see below) of how it all looked if you weren’t there in ’03.

As Dylan and Springsteen reach the twilight of their careers, Young continues the process of leaving a legacy that when judgement day comes, he’ll be sitting up there, proudly wearing the stars and stripes with Bob and Bruce. And our own Frank Turner; an English singer-songwriter and self-confessed touring maniac. In a few decades time, might be of similar standing too. To quote one of his songs that’s apt to the Young legacy, “the journey’s brought joys that outweigh the pain.”

Listen to Falling From Above here:

Neil Young online: Website / he’s left Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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