Neil Young confounded his live audiences in 2003 by beginning his shows with performances of the eighty minute Greendale album in its entirety, before a brief encore of more familiar songs. Greendale is essentially a rock opera (Wikipedia describes it as an “Audio Novel”), detailing the lives of a family in smalltown America, most notably a crotchety grandfather, who’s surely a proxy for Young himself, and young environmental activist Sun Green. Greendale is musically rudimentary, even by Young’s standards, and without Frank Sampedro the sound is thin. This shifts the focus onto Neil Young’s narrative, which features lines like:
The FBI just trashed her room
One of them kicked her cat
Greendale gains momentum towards the end, and the two closing cuts, ‘Sun Green’ and ‘Be The Rain’ are the most memorable as the likable Sun Green takes the limelight. But overall, Greendale is not an album that rewards repeated listening – its strong point is the narrative, in which Young draws attention to environmental issues and corruption. Greendale is a worthy project, and if you’re a Neil Young fan you should make an effort to hear it, but just like it’s unusual to read a novel too many times, this audio novel also probably doesn’t need to be heard too often.