September 11, 2003

Neil Young: Forever Young

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Neil Young is as relevant as ever. To begin with, his influence is predominant in the sounds of some of today’s most oft-hyped bands. His unmistakably emotive voice is echoed in Wayne Coyne’s strained falsetto, Beck’s countrified Sea Change, Grandaddy’s lo-fi-meets-hi-fi bliss, and the list goes on. His import isn’t restricted to his musical progeny, either. In the current political and social climate, Young is one of the few artists still carving a niche for musical protest as valuable social commentary (Dixie Chicks notwithstanding).

Greendale is Young’s follow-up to last year’s severe disappointment, Are You Passionate? (the answer: “not for a bland attempt at white man’s neo-soul”). Fortunately, this is probably Young’s best work since Sleeps With Angels, and serves to renew his recently waning credibility. The elder statesman even takes a few veiled stabs at his sometimes substandard output. On the opener, “Falling From Above,” he sings, “Seems like that guy singin’ this song/ been doin’ it for a long time/ is there anything he knows/ that he ain’t said?” A large part of what makes Greendale a grand return from the recent slosh is the revitalized role of Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot. On Greendale, the trio sounds as rugged and real as ever.

The organ drones and spoken/sung lyrics of “Bandit” are contrasted brilliantly by the rollicking repetition of “Grandpa’s Interview.” Three songs surpass the ten-minute mark, mostly due to perfectly languid guitar solos. On “Carmichael,” Young’s fractured and distorted guitar lead does as much to tell the story of the murdered policeman as the lyrics.

Most of the ten songs take their structure from the blues, and the genre is more than appropriate for a tale that involves a delinquent family, an FBI investigation, a girl named Sun Green, and a place called “The Double E Rancho” (David Lynch might be buying the rights soon). In the end, the music serves only as a backdrop for Young’s narrative yarn. The plot gets a bit convoluted and sometimes a bit clich