Monday, February 27, 2006

"Grandpa bought a rubber"

I had to go all the way back to the 1st comedy album I ever owned, A WILD AND CRAZY GUY (1978) by Steve Martin, to get the title of this post. Sorry, I couldn't think of anything too clever on my own. Anyway, GREENDALE (2003) is Neil's allegorical tale of the Green family, the Double E "rancho", and some adventurous activities that occur in and around the town of Greendale, CA.

This is billed as a "Neil Young & Crazy Horse" album. However, Frank "Poncho" Sampedro does not appear. Additional vocals are provided by the Mountainettes (Pegi Young, Nancy Hall, Twink Brewer, Sue Hall).

GREENDALE is a real multi-media affair, with various audio, video, and print formats involved. It is also something I've never been a huge fan of, a concept album. Generally, I've found "concept album" to be synonymous with "pretentious bullsh-t". However, I don't really feel that is the case here. Neil seems sincere enough. And, the album certainly doesn't suffer from the over-production that plagued so many of the "concept albums" of the '60s & '70s. [I'm sorry, but I feel compelled to mention here that the term "rock opera" has always made me want to wretch. So, I refuse to use it. In my opinion, the only, and I mean only, thing that The Who's TOMMY ever had going for it was Keith Moon being perfectly cast as the pedophile "Uncle Ernie" in the movie version. Perhaps that crystallizes my loathing of "rock operas" for you.] Thankfully, I think it's safe to say that this is NOT a "rock opera". You'll certainly never hear me refer to it as such!

All songs were written by Neil Young:

"Falling From Above" (7:28) introduces us to some of the cast members, particularly Grandpa Green. Grandpa's notable lines include "I won't retire/But I might retread" and "Seems like that guy singin' this song/Been doing it for a long time/Is there anything he knows/That he ain't said?" This song is also memorable for rhyming "religious wars" with "church's exposed sores".

Neil plays some pretty cool bluesy guitar on the next two tracks: "Double E" (5:19) references the "summer of love"; "Devil's Sidewalk" (5:19) references John Lennon (by which I mean, his lyrics are quoted, and followed by the words "John Lennon said that."). Did I mention Neil's guitar was really cool? Good.

"Leave The Driving" (7:15) has some decent bluesy guitar and harmonica from Neil. Oh, yeah, and Cousin Jed (accidentally?) shoots a cop named Carmichael during a traffic stop. The best lyrics here are clearly "And as an afterthought/This must, too, be told/Some people have taken pure bullshit/And turned it into gold".

"Carmichael" (10:20) might be a bit overlong and musically bland (perhaps?). However, Neil does offer us an interesting look at our reaction as a society to an untimely death. It basically boils down to this, "The force got back to normal/Carmichael was replaced/For one year nobody parked a car/In Carmichael's space."

"Bandit" (5:13) is an acoustic guitar-based song which loosely quotes Bob Dylan, and then says "Bob Dylan said that, something like that". Neil uses a whispery voice on some of the lyrics, which is interesting. "Grandpa's Interview" (12:58) is longer than hell, and capped by the observation, "Grandpa died like a hero/Fighting for freedom of silence".

"Bringing Down Dinner" (3:16) is a little organ-based number that adds next to nothing musically. I suppose it progresses the story (?), but even that is open to some question. "Sun Green" (12:03) actually starts off sounding like a Crazy Horse song (for maybe the 1st time on the entire album). I really like Neil's guitar work on this one. Oh, and a cat gets shot after scratching an FBI Agent's leg.

"Be The Rain" (9:14) is the catchiest tune on the album, in my opinion. It is certainly my favorite song on GREENDALE. The backing vocals, Neil's use of the megaphone, the environmental message, Neil's guitar, the "Be The Rain" catchphrase, it all works for me here. I think this is a strong finisher.

So, what does it all mean? I'm not 100% certain. However, here are some possible messages/lessons:
  • Religious wars are bad (see also "With God On Our Side" by Bob Dylan)
  • A little love and affection make the world better (see also "All You Need Is Love" by The Beatles)
  • Change comes slow in the country
  • "One thing I can tell you/Is you got to be free" by John Lennon (see "Come Together" by The Beatles)
  • Cop killing might be bad (at least, it certainly leads to other bad things)
  • B.S. can be turned into gold
  • Bob Dylan is loosely quoted (see "Like A Rolling Stone")
  • Leave It To Beaver and Andy Griffith = GOOD
  • Inside Edition (and its ilk) = BAD
  • Corporate farms are big polluters
  • Although Enron and the Bush White House were the ones in bed together, Gray Davis is the one who got f-cked
  • If your cat scratches an FBI Agent, it will be summarily executed
  • The environment is important, and you can't trust the government or big business to protect it; rather, as consumers, we must all make appropriate choices.

Bottom line: Upon initial listening, I strongly preferred the live, solo acoustic version of GREENDALE on the bonus DVD "Live At Vicar St." The electric version has grown on me a bit, after repeated listens. Still, the only song I would specifically pull it out for is "Be The Rain". Perhaps that's because Neil's environmental message is his longest-standing socio-political cause, and the one where he has the most credibility. Or, maybe it's just that it's the song that seems most fully-finished. Is it that Poncho's absence is best hidden here? I'm not sure. Something just seems a bit off to me on much of the electrical stuff. But, I don't get that same feeling listening to the acoustic version.

In fact, here's what I REALLY WANT: I'd love to be able to rip the audio off the acoustic DVD version, edit out Neil's between-songs narrative, and burn the music itself onto a CD. Anyone know how to accomplish that?


Blogger Judas said...

The monk bought lunch. Yes he did, he bought a little.

I stole that of The Doors.

9:47 AM, February 27, 2006  

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