The Inspired Secret: A Consideration of Neil Young's Return To Greendale

In hindsight, an ambitious plot of Neil Young to stage his rock opera Greendale: the make-believe wee place that suffers the loss of a respected police officer, with the crowd believing they were attending your standard Young and Crazy Horse rock ’n’ roll gig, was art in itself. After absorption, fans did warm to the quirk loaded tour and multimedia marrying of live-actors and song. Themes of environmentalism, corruption, and the destructive effects of capitalism are ever sharply present to this very day, and if anything, worse; the storm cloud darkening and expanding with pain. If we lack hope, it can feel like they’re here to stay, which make this a fitting time, November 6th 2020, to release Return To Greendale.

Before the idea grew wings, Neil started crafting songs, and a tale began to brew. The cracks and fizz of the unrefined, live recording of the ten tracks suit the seaside, fictional town, as does the unfussy, bluesy composing, leaning to a folksy approach. Each tune is familiar with each other, holding hands as such, and sharing a reasonably uptempo pulse, free from swell. They follow a command from Young’s venerable storytelling of the perspective of players - Grandma, Grandpa, Edith, Earl, eco-warrior Sun Green and the ill-fated Jed. Speaking of Jed, in Leave The Driving, a harmonica commences as we learn that he has committed the horrific crime of killing an officer of the law.

Grandpa watches the story unfold in the media, watches it twist, turn and change Jed into an unrecognisable character, as the media can often do: “Grandpa put down the paper, staring in disbelief, Jed had always been good to him, and never gave him any grief.” Maybe his granddaughter Sun Green was the original Greta Thunberg as we hear her plight over the twelve-minute track: “She chained herself to a statue of an eagle, in the lobby of Power Co., and started yelling through a megaphone, 'There's corruption on the highest floor.'” Last track Be The Rain is anthemic in a Young styled fashion for the hippies at heart, accommodating tip-top harmonic backing and ramping up the atmosphere to finish.

There’s plenty of Neil and the Crazy Horses to go round. ’Return to Greendale’, with a cast of actors speaking the sung words, will be released in numerous formats. The limited-edition deluxe box set includes a Blu-ray of the concert, two LPs, two CDs, and a DVD of the ‘Inside Greendale’, documentary. Also, it will be available separately on double vinyl, a two-CD set, and digitally from the Neil Young Archives. This must be taken for what it is: A concept ten-piece that cries out to be listened in sequence and in full for people who care, care about Young and care about music. There are post 9/11 questions, of course. Have we moved on positively in any way at all? The answer: its complex. But like he says “We’ve got to save Mother Earth.” What else can we do.

Article by Beverley Knight