Neil Young has released dozens of albums over his storied career that spans nearly 50 years. He has used his music as a means of political protest, to create legends out of ordinary people, and even occasionally to express his love to someone. On Tuesday, he will release his umpteenth album, Storytone, which, let’s just say, is something different, something unique to Young’s discography. Setting aside for the most part the standard folk-rock arrangements we’ve become accompanied to, he’s backed up by either a 90-piece orchestra, a 60-piece ensemble, or a multi-instrumental band. He did, however, also release an acoustic version of Storytone, which seems to appease his longtime followers.
Our group of writers take a listen to the more expansive version. Here are their First Impressions.
I have much respect for Neil Young, heck I even liked Trans which most people hated. After I heard the concept of the album and wasn’t sure what to expect – I was intrigued. I suppose I will always be wanting or desiring the caliber of “Harvest Moon” in terms of NY songwriting. With this album, it didn’t quite hit the mark. I do admire artists that take a stand for what they believe in, but “Who’s Gonna Stand Up” just kind of fell flat with me. I enjoyed his voice with an orchestra in the background in some songs like “Plastic Flowers” and also the stripped down acoustic versions were an interesting angle. For myself, I need an emotional connection with songwriting and this album did not do that for me.
I have decided that Neil Young is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get but I actually do admire that about him. Storytone just happens to be a box that I didn’t entirely enjoy.
I had to listen to Neil Young’s latest album three times to get a feel for it. It’s a difficult album to describe because the addition of a full-blown orchestra creates a theatrical feeling. By the time I got through the third sitting, I felt like I was listening to the soundtrack of an off-Broadway play. On the one hand, there are cheery, Disney-pop arrangements. It’s something you might acquaint with Phil Collins’ work with, well, Disney. Lyrically, too, there are some pretty sappy tunes like “Plastic Flowers” and “I’m Glad I Found You”. But then there is some pretty interesting songwriting. “Who’s Gonna Stand Up” sees Young call out against fracking and oil drilling while the orchestra plays behind him. As my wife said, “It’s like a kid’s song”, and she’s right. The next two songs are a bit ironic. “I Want to Drive My Car”, which is classic Young, is about, well, Young wanting to drive his car until he finds his destination. The irony, of course, is that to drive his car that far he’ll need gas unless he has a solar-powered car. “Glimmer”, which honestly made me think of The Muppets, starts off with the protagonist again in his car.
As much as I adore Neil Young, this expansive and even ambitious album didn’t resonate with me. Maybe Young wanted to challenge himself, but so much of the album is just not that good. It’s almost unbearable. Sorry Neil. I tried to like it, but it just couldn’t come around to picturing you dressed up like Phil Collins singing “You’ll Be in My Heart”.
Neil Young has always been a favorite of mine, and I’ll never forget the first time I saw him live. On paper, Storytone seemed like an interesting and ambitious record, Neil with a full orchestra. However, it does fall short from what it could have been. I think Ben said it best when he said it felt like listening to the soundtrack to an off-broadway play. It sounds all over the place, with some bluesy tracks, then some silly sounding big band style music like “Say Hello To Chicago”, which is followed up with “Tunbleweed” which sounds like it’s out of a Disney soundtrack. Heck, “Like You Used To Do” sounds like a blues number being played by a late night talk show band.
There’s definitely some interesting stuff here, like “When I Watch You Sleeping”, but in my opinion it’s too disjointed. I can’t see anything from this getting any spins again from me.
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