Neil Young’s long, rambling road of a career has one constant: Compelled to try something new, he impulsively sidetracks into unknown territory, which is never as unknown as he thinks it is. Greendale offers ten songs with interlocking characters and story lines and comes as a CD, a DVD movie and a live performance. The format is new, but the figures have been paraded across his stage before — Feds and heads, noble artists and laborers, incendiary young women and wise old mamas.
Greendale is a seaside town in Northern California concocted from a typically unstable Young combination of J.R.R. Tolkien, Raymond Chandler and Wes Craven. A drug-running lost soul shoots a cop who has a secret life; the wealthy patriarch of the Green family is killed by media assault; Green’s bandleader granddaughter, Sun, becomes an eco-Amazon in Alaska. Recorded with only drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot, as well as Young’s guitar, harmonica and organ, Greendale has a tattered, buzzing, demolike sound, rude as any Young has put out. The dominant form is primeval, bluesy stomps. A single gust of fancy production would destroy the album — and perhaps make the depth of its bitterness too obvious. Of the tunes, only “Falling From Above,” “Devil’s Sidewalk” and perhaps “Sun Green,” with its spooky channeling of John Lee Hooker, could enter the Young canon. But Greendale uses a hippie dream of strong-willed folks’ spontaneous redemption as a cover story for a compelling, ominous rendition of America after 9/11: There’s paranoia on Main Street.