Some of Neil Young's best records are bound by a unifying theme -- Tonight's the Night, Rust Never Sleeps, Sleeps With Angels. But he's never made a concept album as linear, narrative, and ambitious as Greendale, a song cycle about a fictional California town and one of its families, which captures three generations dealing with age and mortality.
Recorded with members of the veteran backup trio Crazy Horse, Greendale is Young's most human album since 1995's Mirror Ball. But it's also unwieldy and a little cold. Its 10 songs average seven minutes, which give the music and story plenty of room to roam. Yet the spare basics of the guitar, bass, and drums repeat musical and thematic points to little purpose, and Greendale closes with little insight into its characters. A cop is killed, Grandpa spouts off to a TV news reporter . . . That's about as interesting as it gets.
The project is tied into a movie (directed by Young) and a stage show (with actors) that undoubtedly tie up some of the thematic loose ends. As an album, however, Greendale is little more than a modification of his decades-old axiom: time fades away.