Nostalgia’s righteous re-release
Fans of classic rock can’t tell Neil Young to slow down in his later career, though the ever-expanding “Neil Young Archives” seem to be profiting from a series of spontaneous releases over the past decade. Young’s latest release with Crazy Horse, Return to Greendale, is collected from the tour before the release of his rock opera, Greendale.
Set in a fictional community, Young explored the passing characters of small-town Greendale through his acquired pet themes: corruption, ordinary life and environmentalism. Though rather than shoving these down people’s throats as listeners, his combination provides a digestible plot-line to serve as a better form of storytelling.
The album features all original songs as energetic live concert renditions. Young’s rambling often leads the songs to 10 minutes or longer, but spur simple yet ageless guitar riffs of his well-known repertoire. Song choice in this album fuels Young’s timeless musical talent and Crazy Horse’s devotion. “Devil’s Sidewalk” is one which this is most prevalent, with a nice reminder of the rock opera title as chorus singers chime in saying “Greendale.”
Songs like “Leave the Driving,” “Bandit” and “Falling From Above” contain the wiry guitar playing to make a crowd sway. With a tad of ordinary life in songs like “Bringin’ Down Dinner,” the crowd is drawn in even more. But on the other end of the spectrum are songs like “Double E.” Perhaps the dirtiest blues rock to come out of this century, this song hits. This song carries Rhythm & Blues further than this year and into the next decade with a few guitar licks.
On the longer end of most people’s music taste, “Carmichael” clocks in at almost 11 minutes, but explores the life occurrence of Carmichael. While a bit slow, it cleans up with a short-lived guitar riff to move forward. In similar speed but with better style is the 13-minute track “Grandpa’s Interview.” Smutty distortion and a calm demeanor keep the song up to speed with Young’s eloquent rambling. This song is personal and grabs people’s heartstrings to play the filthy riffs in this track. As arguably the strongest song on this album, it still flows with the story of Greendale, making it crucial for this album.
It’s almost unfair to compare new and old Neil Young music. Young’s spontaneity in releasing older recordings or impulsive mixes blurs the chronology of rock ‘n’ roll music. Songs like “Sun Green” and “Be The Rain” contain the angst and might of the blues-rock genre, but contort people’s timeline as the listener. Old is becoming new through an infusion of ideas that have regenerated through the political activism and social transition of 2020. Young has always been a pacesetter for politically instilled music, and “Be The Rain” closes the album to deliver this message once again. This environmentally inspired song is perhaps ironic, as guitar riffs become filthier as time progresses. Is this a message on its own? Or just grasping at straws within an individual’s musical hysteria.
The Return to Greendale tour marked a beginning for Young’s eco-political direction. At a time of great environmental awakening worldwide, this album’s transition into the current year makes the message more powerful. Distinctly aged and pulled at the right moment like a perfected wine, Return to Greendale has a message of its own. One of relevant activism and ordinary times that happens to have marked a career-high point for one of the most influential musicians of rock history.