Neil Young – Storytone
Diehard Neil Young fans are like any other. They’re unswervingly loyal. Which is a good thing, because on more than one occasion the greatest living Canadian has done his darnedest to divest himself of even his most devoted followers. Tonight’s The Night got rid of the Harvest set. Trans did for the hippies. Arc left only those with severe tinnitus standing. Fork In The Road encouraged others to take a different turning. Now there’s Storytone. Officially, it’s a single album with Neil plus big band or orchestra, but sans Crazy Horse and Old Black. Unofficially, it’s a double album with solo and unplugged versions of the big band and orchestral songs. Just Neil plus a single guitar, banjo, or piano, with the occasional harmonica thrown in for extra effect. What’s interesting, though, is that the ‘Deluxe’ edition, which is pretty much the standard offering in the usual outlets, places the solo versions first. These are the ones that people are going to hear the most. So, the headline news that Neil Young has gone and made an album with a cast of thousands suddenly seems to have been relegated to the back pages. Was it the right decision? Is any of it half-way decent? Or is it just another case of The Shocking Pinks? Well, there are some worthwhile solo moments. ‘When I Watch You Sleeping’ has a nice Prairie Wind-era vibe to it. And the by-now-familar ‘Who’s Gonna Stand Up’ still has the best hook on the album. What’s most striking, though, is the mic’ing on this part of the album. It makes everything both pristine and intimate. You can hear the foot pedals creaking on the piano-led songs. The full-on versions, though, are more of an acquired taste. ‘Say Hello To Chicago’ is ruined with clichéd big band parping and hooting. And some of the orchestral songs are so drowned in strings that they sound like Disney scores. These versions work best when the orchestration is understated. ‘When I Watch You Sleeping’ is still worth a listen, though if you heard it on its own you’d probably think that a solo version would sound better. You’d be right. But the closer, ‘All Those Dreams’, is worth the time. Another case of restrained orchestration, it builds nicely on the solo version, even if the ‘cucumber’ lyric still jars. With Storytone Neil Young has managed to alienate a few more fans. But the diehard ones will remain, eagerly and quite rightly awaiting the next unpredictable instalment in the great man’s career.