Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Return To Greendale
I like Neil Young most of the time. Or even love Neil Young’s music most of the time. But I think I like him best when he’s being wilfully obscure, or chasing his own vision more directly than the handful of times when he’s just Making A Neil Young Album For The Masses. In the late 90s and early 00s he seemed to be repeating the formula of Harvest Moon, itself a palinode to Harvest (and perhaps a better album…perhaps…) but then Greendale reminded us that he could just a weird old dude. And had been a weird old dude since his early 20s by the way.
I love Greendale.
It’s mad. It’s almost bad – at times. But it’s also a story only Neil Young could make and move through and care about. It’s as Neil Young as Trans and some of his other slight foot-in-the-mud stomps through a story. It’s got environmental concerns and that wonderful line about one of the characters hearing the future on a scratchy old 78 – which, since I heard it (the first time) has made me think of Young’s own journey with sound, with music and in life.
It’s also got some great music – and is one of my all time favourite road-trip albums. It’s a concept album but also who gives a fuck about the concept. Follow it if you want to – I always lose the thread about half way through the album (and I’m not convinced Young doesn’t as well) but I’m always chuffed to hear Sun Green mentioned again near the end of the album – like a welcome back: Oh we’re still doin the characters? Yes, yes we are! Okay then…
Return To Greendale is a live run through of the album – released now as part of one of Young’s ongoing archival series’. It arrives in various versions across different formats and included a live show not just in audio but video too – with a making of/behind the scenes thing if you really want to go deep. The show is better than the film that was released at the time, which revelled a little too much in the madness of Young’s concept about the fictional town and the media madness.
But to hear it again – all over and as if brand new – is to enjoy not just the musical performances (lots of Young’s harmonica, a few choice solos, even some pump organ and plenty of plodding-but-gritty Crazy Horse band-feels) but to re-locate the story in 2020; in Trump-era America. The small-town Americana feels eerily familiar now, like we all just lived through something and these songs remind us of some of the heartlanders and their honest ambitions.
That aside it’s frankly just a joyous wee stroll through some slightly off-kilter but charming music – most of the songs are 5-6 minutes long and when they’re not they’re 10-12 minutes.
Bandit is one of the great Young acoustic guitar ballads; belonging, too, in the subset of Great Young Acoustic Guitar Ballads With A Purposely Detuned Buzzing String. You will find others of its ilk in his mid-70s run of “Doom”.
And in the opening trio of Falling From Above, Double E and Devil’s Sidewalk I’m also reminded of some of the other charming but ramshackle slight-misses from Young’s 90s post-Godfather of Grunge phase. I think particularly of Broken Arrow, an album I never hear raved about but I very much love (most of) it.
I feel the same way about Greendale. And have enjoyed returning to it via this live album, Return To Greendale. Somehow – and I know this hardly makes sense – but it seems to make more sense this way. That, then, is strangely fitting.
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