First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2004, Volume 11, #9
Written by John Metzger
Fans and critics alike either loved or hated Neil Young’s Greendale, the Canadian-turned-Californian songwriter’s self-proclaimed musical novel that was released with enormous fanfare last summer. Indeed, the public’s reaction to the collection has been as polarized as America’s political scene, and being his usual cantankerous self, Young likely couldn’t resist the urge to poke and prod further at the wounds he had inflicted in an attempt to keep the discourse flowing until the country’s monumentally consequential election this November. As if the concerts, the album, and a handful of live recordings didn’t provide enough methods for reaching the masses, Young crafted yet another format for comprehending his tale by setting his songs within the visual context of a feature-length film, which received a brief theatrical run before its recent DVD debut.
For the record, the movie version of Greendale is essentially a grainy, lo-fi music video that, shot by Young on Super-8 and later converted to 35-millimeter film, largely feels like the amateurish DIY project that it is. Yet, at the same time, it’s also a strangely affecting piece — especially for those who share his viewpoint. Utilizing low-budget production techniques and a cast of friends and family who act out their roles by lip-synching his words, Young achieves the nearly impossible by finding the magnificently charming gem that lurks within his otherwise aesthetic nightmare, although it helps considerably for one to have at least a modest appreciation for his simplistic songs, plaintive voice, and extended electric guitar interludes.
For certain, it’s hardly a conceivable notion that through Greendale, Young is going to change anyone’s mind about the issues; its themes about saving the planet, preserving civil liberties, and putting an end to media intrusiveness and corporate globalization — important as they may be — are certainly nothing new, and most people already know on which side of the divide they happen to fall. America is currently in a rather precarious state, however, so now is as important a time as any for Young to speak his mind, especially since his vision is so clear, his story so artfully told that it’s impossible for those in his court not to be moved by his rousing call to arms. And that’s exactly the point. Who, save for his fans, would purchase such an antagonistic endeavor in so many different formats? In Greendale, Young offers hope that the youth of America will rise to the challenge, and that is precisely to whom he is speaking.
Greendale is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box