Neil Young – Storytone

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By Christopher Hollow. “There’s a strong theory on Neil Young’s career that he has two modes of expression…”

Neil Young – Storytone (Reprise)

There’s a strong theory on Neil Young’s career that he has two modes of expression, which he’s oscillated between since 1969: increasingly blustering electric workouts and pastoral acoustic moments.

But if Storytone proves anything, it’s that Young does have a third gear to make, as the old car parlance goes, three on the tree.

There’s also an argument that this third gear is the most interesting, representing the breakout moments in his career.

Like the orchestral ones with the late-Jack Nitzsche. Some super-successful [Buffalo Springfield’s “Expecting to Fly”], some overblown [those string tracks on Harvest]. Then there’s the bluesy horns of This Note’s For You. The reflex-action instinctive instrumental soundtrack to Dead Man and the most infamous breakout moment of all – employing a vocoder on Trans, an album which holds up very well despite its gnarly reputation.

The story behind Storytone is that it’s split between a swingin’ big band and a 92-piece orchestra and choir. It sees Young veer between old school Sammy Fain-style songwriting [“Tumbleweed”] and Bobby Darin finger poppin’ [“Say Hello to Chicago”].

In the past, Neil has been an avowed fan of Darin’s genre-hopping style. He once said, instructively, “I used to be pissed off at Bobby Darin because he changed styles so much. Now I look at him and think he was a fucking genius.”

Storytone could easily be viewed as Neil’s tribute to Bobby Darin.

In recent times, Young’s private life has made headlines – first with the break-up of the 36-year marriage to Pegi. Of course, to long-time fans this was a surprise, especially given Young that wrote in Waging Heavy Peace: “Without Pegi, I’m an island without an ocean”. [Maybe we need to listen to Psychedelic Pill a little closer].

Next came the news that Neil was squiring Hollywood actress, Daryl Hannah. And with that, Young’s [now ex-]buddy David Crosby came out and canned that relationship, labelling the ex-mermaid a ‘purely poisonous predator’.

It’s hard not to bring this lurid backstory into Storytone especially when lyrics talk of new love. Like in the opener, “Plastic Flowers”, which echoes “After the Gold Rush” lyrically and melodically, Young sings: “I was doing well, and I thought she liked my style/ I had no business feeling like that.” Or in “I’m Glad I Found You”: “I’m glad I found you in this sad world/for so many things had gone wrong/it took me so long just to find you/right where we belong.”

When Young is not praising new romantic love he’s referencing his love of cars and his quest for alternative fuels {“I Want to Drive My Car”], and the perils of not looking out for the environment [“Who’s Gonna Stand Up?”]

In the latter, Young intones: “End fossil fuel, draw the line/Before we build one more pipeline/End fracking now, let’s save the water/ And build a life for our sons and daughters.”

He’s right on, but despite agreeing wholeheartedly with his politics, it’s still easier listening to Young singing about lost love and divorce than it is about fracking. With that mind, “Glimmer” is a standout and this might have only a little to do with the fact that it hits the same melodic lines as “Journey Through the Past”. Neil’s voice sounds fabulous and vulnerable, which has always been a great part of his appeal.

Storytone’s deluxe edition comes with acoustic renditions, which many fans have preferred. However, for this latest fork in the road, I’m all about the stringman, who lately lost his wife.

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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