Album Review: Neil Young – Storytone

Neil Young has developed a habit of switching from one sound to another. Having spent a few years cranking out loud guitar rock with Crazy Horse, it was perhaps inevitable that he would return with a soft-focus album, but this time with a difference, Young’s acoustic guitar is replaced by a 92 piece orchestra. Syrupy strings usher in Plastic Flowers which is an otherwise perfectly serviceable Neil Young piano ballad. The first casuse for alarm bells is Who’s Gonna Stand Up, a particularly heavy handed brand of sloganeering .  Some sample lyrics: “protect the land from the greed of man, stand up to oil, protect the plants and renew the soil… end fracking now”, all backed by the dramatic orchestra and a full scale choir.  Young’s electric guitar comes out for the banal blues-boogie of I Want To Drive My Car, complete with honky-tonk piano and a brass section.  The mercifully brief Like You Used To Do is along similar lines but the big-band, brassy Say Hello To Chicago reperesents the nadir, it sounds like the type of thing usually heard on an American chat show.  Perhaps a genre-exercise?

After this, sappy ballads Glimmer, Tumbleweed and I’m Glad I Found You are blessed relief though they barely escape being drowned by the over-the-top orchestral arrangements. The final two tracks are back to the Neil Young many of us know and love. Comforting harmonica introduces When I Watch You Sleeping, an acoustic number that echoes his Harvest-era recordings with a slight nod to Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright. Even more comforting is All Those Dreams, like a cross between Harvest Moon and the Eagles’ Best Of My Love. On these, the orchestra is pushed to the background, acting as an effective support rather than dominating the tracks, which are by the far the most effective songs here. It’s the type of thing Neil Young does effortlessly, and a whole album of this would have satisfied many, but one thing Neil Young does not like to do is aim to please.  And there are plenty of albums in this vein in his back catalogue.

The deluxe edition comes with an acoustic version of the album for those who can’t get enough of this sort of thing.  Some of the cringier moments are a little more palatable minus the over the top arrangements.  Never predictable, who knows what the crazy old git will try next?

Killian Laher

Tracklist:
1. Plastic Flowers
2. Who’s Gonna Stand Up
3. I Want To Drive My Car
4. Glimmer
5. Say Hello To Chicago
6. Tumbleweed
7. Like You Used To Do
8. I’m Glad I Found You
9. When I Watch You Sleeping
10. All Those Dreams

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