Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Neil Young – Greendale (2003)


Superman might be the Man of Steel, but I don’t think he would be able to listen to Neil Young’s Greendale without getting overwhelmed by its boringness. I don’t know much about the science of being born under the influence of Planet Krypton’s gravity, but I seriously doubt it could have prepared him for this. Not that the songs on this album are particularly terrible—they’re just so LONG that it’s insane. You might look at the song-listing and immediately think that it’s a very digestible 10-tracks. But then you notice that the album’s running length, at 78 minutes, pushes the limits of a compact disc. If you’re anything like me, you slapped your palm on your forehead and exclaimed “Errghh!”

Look, Mr. Canadian. I thought we went over this in the ’90s. Just because you have 78 minutes to make an album, it doesn’t mean that you had to use all of it! Seriously, man, if you keep this up in your subsequent albums, I’ll have to start calling him Old Geezer Windbags. He’s like the old guy you cross paths with at the supermarket who starts talking to you and never shuts up. I’m still glad that Neil finally got out of his murky grunge phase, but, seriously, is this dude trying to torture me or something?

This is a rock opera, according to Wikipedia. When I first read that statement, I had to blink my eyes once or twice to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. (Although, come to think of it, the one time in my life that I have hallucinated, blinking my eyes didn’t do anything.) Not that I was surprised that Neil Young would try to put out a rock opera, but Greendale doesn’t sound like I’d think a rock opera would sound. When I think of a rock opera, I think of extravagant events like The Who’s Tommy or Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. But here, Neil Young only plays a bunch of worn-out blues riffs for a billion minutes and sings melodies that sounds like he made them up off the top of his head.

Listening to Greendale can, indeed, be a trying experience, but at least Crazy Horse manages to keep the experience crunchy by playing a bunch of admittedly cool mid-tempo rhythms, and Neil comes in often enough with reliably good, personality-ridden guitar noodles. (Ah, what would one of his albums be like without his solos?) The guitar solo that takes the cake is “Be the Rain,” the nine-minute closing song. While the gruff texture and nice Crazy Horse rhythm keep the experience determined and menacing, Young’s guitar noodles are so freaking absorbing that I hardly notice the time go by! It also helps that the song’s vocal melody is pretty dang hooky. That’s a stark contrast to most of these other songs, such as the seven-minute “Leave the Driving,” which the melody consists of (I’m not kidding) the same three notes repeated over and over.

If you want my opinion, and I assume that you do, the main problem with Greendale was that it had to be a ROCK OPERA. Maybe if Neil wasn’t so busy telling us some story that I don’t care about, he wouldn’t have felt the need to drag on these songs for so long. I mean, perhaps “Grandpa Interview” wouldn’t have been 13 minutes of all the same thing if he didn’t have so many freaking stanzas of lyrics to go through!! (Actually that’s one of the more “rock-opera-ish” songs of the album, since you can pretty distinctly hear Neil doing some play acting! He’s not bad!!) Yeah, so you can tell that I’m not particularly thrilled about the concept, but is it possible I’m listening to this album wrong? Many of the overwhelmingly positive reviews of it I read on talk extensively about the tragic story depicted in these lyrics, and how they are so moving. They also seem to appreciate how this album offers some rich insight into Neil Young’s view of the universe. (“Be the Rain” is notably an environmental anthem.) And here I am, writing a review of Greendale, without bothering to even mention the lyrics until now! I’m a freaking rock ‘n’ roll heathen!! …However, if you love Neil Young for his lyrics, then I can see why you might treasure Greendale. I read through them, and they’re alright. (I’m not much of a lyrics man, myself. If you couldn’t tell.)

It has a classy album cover, though. This album has that going for it. It looks like something you would buy from a National Park gift shop. And these are pretty good songs, anyway. Despite my sometimes bitter cynicism throughout this review, I can’t honestly say that I find Greendale to be such an excruciating experience. It’s just needlessly longer than it had to be. That’s all I’m sayin’. It has the tendency to wear out its welcome.

May 13, 2010 - Posted by | Neil Young Greendale |

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