Neil Young’s newest album, entitled Storytone, features heavy orchestral collaboration, a choir, and a lot of mess. As the rock legend records 10 new songs live, alternating between his own acoustic solos and songs with the strings group, listeners hopeful for true-Neil folk artistry will find tedium in his oil-related ramblings and general save-the-Earth propaganda.
The deluxe version of the album, which contains 20 tracks (original 10, plus band and orchestral versions) offers the songs in a couple different forms–but we soon learn that one rendition is enough.
Young’s musical intentions have usually proven good; the CSNY grad and solo artist boasts 35 studio albums and likely a thousand live performances from the 60s onward. And that’s why this one is such a disappointment.
“I got my promises made, but before the time was fathered, I show plastic flowers to Mother Nature’s daughter/She held the vase; her misty gaze brought them to life…”, opens Neil on the first track–which I should note, is tolerable. But although the longtime hippie’s free-flowing approach has long been acknowledged, there is no vibrancy or “oomph” to be found here–just a lightweight, cookie-cutter ballad. It’s hard to believe, while listening, that “Plastic Flowers” springs from the same creative source as “Old Man” or “Cowgirl in the Sand”. Neil’s either facing some creative impotence, or it’s a production thing; maybe he’s just not cut out for melodramatic background piano.
“Who’s Gonna Stand Up”, a song after the Green Party’s own heart, and Young’s testament to abolishing fossil fuels, fracking (yes, he mentions fracking), and adopting sustainability practices, is possibly the most intelligible on the album. “Who’s gonna stand up and save the Earth, who’s gonna say that she’s had enough?/Who’s gonna take on the big machine, who’s gonna stand up and save the Earth?” A little more of the guitar-toting Neil we’re used to, the 4-minute soil-defense statement at least contains some redeeming acoustic melody.
The goofy thing is that the next track, ironically titled “I Want to Drive My Car”–totally undermines the prior song’s message and really nullifies his fervent fuel-banning argument. The title repeats and repeats, with “further on down the road…I need a place to go”. [Face-palm].
You could say it’s a mess from this point on; one not worth entering unless your love for Young is truly unconditional.
While tracks like “I’m Glad I Found You” and the creepy “When I Watch You Sleeping” seem to spin on an endless carousel of mawkish mush, they’re still better than ones like “Glimmer” and “Say Hello to Chicago”, which find Neil in a senile-voiced maze of mixed messages and nostalgia that we can’t even verify as his own. And the stringed versions only magnify the problems via violins.
In order to protect one’s Neil-esteem from complete detonation, it is not recommended that fans of the otherwise brilliant singer-songwriter bother with the convoluted Storytone. In fact, we’re better off just pretending it never happened.