Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Album Review: Neil Young- Storytone

Neil Young
*and1/2 out of *****
Neil Young had a dream to record with a huge orchestra (92 piece in this) backing him in the same room on some very personal songs. Young is as much of an audiophile as you will find in rock and roll and he will be happy with the sonic quality of the huge swells, but as a creative artist, he may look back with some regret as the songs rarely work with the instrumentation. Then again knowing what little we do of Young, it is doubtful he regrets anything, artistically. 

The pairing is an odd one from the beginning as after the delicate love tune of "Plastic Flowers" comes "Who's Gonna Stand Up?". This is a clear a protest/call to arms song regarding pollution and saving the earth; it is one of the clearest, direct songs Young's ever written and sounds completely out of place with the mellow dramatic flutes, strings and rising chorus that get matched with it. The rising climax is sure cinematic, even with a little tag on the end, but this is just the wrong song for this musical score.

"Glimmer" is one of the few tracks that lends itself to this overblown work but it is more the exception then the rule. It is not only the odd sonic pairings, the flippant nature of the tracks and Neil's performances themselves should be addressed. Young has notoriously recorded without giving two shits about what anyone has thought, but some of these offerings are barely songs. "I Want To Drive My Car" is sung so disengaged it sounds like Young is just making a statement and not really one that should escape his lips. I am also sure Neil gets the blues but he doesn't sound like it or any kind of blues man for that matter on "Say Hello Chicago", he just sounds detached, but the backing band is pretty killer on that one.      

The flip-side to all of this is the solo versions of these tunes that Young includes on the "Deluxe" release of Storytone. Not sure if this is a marketing statement or an artistic one but either way it rescues a few of these tracks. All of a sudden "Who's Gonna Stand Up?" isn't so mismatched and "Tumbleweed" loses it's chimes and Disney-fication to end up the easy beach strumming ukelele number it was always meant to be.

"When I Watch You Sleeping" with just a harmonica and 6 string becomes poignant and had the solo disk been the focus we could laugh off the pomp, but the real, non deluxe release, is the orchestra filled misstep so we need to judge things as they are presented. Less is more on Storytone as the orchestral disk might be worth a curious listen but if you ever go back to any of these tracks it will be the acoustic ones. Hopefully Neil just jumps in his beloved car and moves on to his next all consuming project leaving Storytone behind.  
Uncle Neil is one of our favorites, but he is also an artist we expect nothing from these days, hence this didn't end up on our let down list in 2015. We will not return to this at all.

Support the artist here, buy the album here and peep some video here:

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