By Jared Sokoloff
Neil Young is an artist who doesn’t need an introduction. He is a legend — one of the greatest songwriters of our generation. He has spent decades exploring nearly every musical genre — spawning timeless albums and songs. Be it the country roots of “Harvest,” the rockabilly tunes of “Everybody’s Rockin’,” or the misunderstood electronic influence of “Trans,” Young has reached just about every corner of the musical spectrum.
As with any career spent branching out musically, there can be just as many misses as there are hits. The artists know these risks, and they deserve a huge amount of respect for braving the odds of coming out successful or not. Unfortunately, Young’s latest release, “Storytone,” falls flat.
The big idea behind the album is having Young backed by a 92-piece orchestra, which was an apparent longtime dream for the songwriter. However, the main fault in this album lies in the orchestral arrangements. Predictable and gaudy, they turn Neil’s famously simple songwriting into what sounds like rejected Disney musicals. Arrangers Michael Bearden and Chris Walden are disappointing for the album’s final two tracks, “When I Watch You Sleeping” and “All Those Dreams.” While both start out as delicate acoustic tracks, the orchestra comes to wash out the sense of minimalism.
The three remaining tracks on the album are just as lifeless. “Say Hello to Chicago” is a swing tune with Young backed by the sounds of a big band. However, the band is stiff and turns Young into an aged-out Vegas act. “I Want to Drive My Car” and “Like You Used to Do” are slow blues rockers, featuring the same stiffness that strangles them from going anywhere great.
There is some redeeming value in the deluxe edition, which features the entire album as just Neil accompanying himself. Yet there’s something about even these performances that feel just too calculated, which is a shame because, stripped back, these aren’t bad songs.
The album also has a couple of weak spots lyrically. “Who’s Gonna Stand Up,” a pro-environmental piece, is what seems like a string of clever marketing slogans for some sort of Green Foundation.
“Say Hello to Chicago” is another listy song, this time about Chicago’s clichés, including the city’s blues history and it’s infamous wind.
“Storytone” is a mediocre album dragged down by an unfortunate choice of production. While the album (and it’s extended counterpart) may be an essential pick for die-hard Neil Young fans, it is one that can be ignored by the general public.