Neil Young/ Storytone (Reprise, 2014)
Neil Young is closer to the end of his career than he is the beginning. Knowing this has made him quite prolific these past few years, releasing two albums (more if you count archival releases) a year for a while now. This is his second album this year, and it's another double album.
Disc One: Solo Storytone, is Neil at his most vulnerable: his weathered, warbly voice accompanied by only a piano or an acoustic guitar. Who's Gonna Stand Up? is Neil's environmental protest song, kind of corny but heartfelt all the same. Neil Young recently ended a longterm relationship, and many of these songs deal with an older, wiser person falling in love again (Tumbleweed and I'm Glad I Found You) while questioning whether or not they should have.
Disc Two is the “true” Storytone in intent, an orchestrated version with different arrangements of the ten songs found on disc one. Plastic Flowers works better with a huge orchestra behind him. I Want To Drive My Car sounds bizarre with the full orchestra behind it. I prefer Disc One to most of the versions on disc two.
Storytone is not a great album by any stretch, but it is an honest one, a snapshot of where Neil Young is at age 69. Think about that for a minute. The guy has been a recording artist for 48 years, releasing close to 50 albums between his solo career and other bands. Not everything that Neil Young has done is great, but it is all honest to where he is at that point in time. I am pretty sure that we can all applaud that. If you can't, well I am sure that we will have a new album before summertime given his current rate of productivity.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 3.5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- Okay Neil, you hate CDs and those of us who buy them, I get it. Gatefold cardboard sleeve, a disc for each side with no protection from the uncoated cardboard and a booklet thrown in the middle which falls out every single time you pick it up.
The Smashing Pumpkins/ Monuments To An Elegy (Martha's Music/ BMG, 2014)
This is the shortest album in the band's entire discography, with nine songs clocking in at just under 33 minutes. Cripes, some of their '90s CD singles were longer than this. I am of the mindset that the optimal length for an album is 40-45 minutes, largely because that was roughly the limitation for vinyl when I was a kid. Only when CDs came out did albums start getting longer until they hit the 80 minute ceiling. Many albums from many bands were admittedly worse for it, as they were padded with inferior material to run down the clock.
Monuments To An Elegy finds Billy Corgan aided and abetted by longtime guitarist Jeff Schroeder (2007- present) and Tommy Lee of Motley Crue on drums. If you would have told 1994 me that Tommy Lee of hair band Motley Crue would one day play drums on a Pumpkins album I would have asked you what you were on, but here we are.
Tiberius sounds similar to other things in the ongoing Teargarden By Kaleidyscope opus. Announced in 2009, it is a 44 song concept album which has spread across two EPs and two LPs with one more album finishing things up next year. Anaise! has the most punishing bass line since Another One Bites The Dust, albeit with tons of vintage synthesizers giving it a different flavor by the end.
One And All (We Are) is a strong Rock song, typical Pumpkins fare. Run2Me is pure synth-pop. Billy Corgan has always stood in two worlds: The '70s/80s Rock/Metal that he grew up on and '80s Alternative stuff, and the push/pull of those two desires have helped him create one of the most unique sounds in Rock. Things fall apart when he leans too far in either direction. Drum + Fife is one of the freshest sounding Pumpkins songs in ages. Let's hope that Corgan means the sentiment of “bang this drum to my dying day” and not give up the ghost.
The most interesting moments on the album are when Corgan goes off into the wilderness, oblivious to popular culture or even his own past. Monuments and Dorian sound like they are lost somewhere between the '90s and the future without a clue how to get back, a journey down a rabbit hole without a road map. I found these fascinating sonic pieces, especially since Corgan uses his guitar as a component rather than the star of the song. He also refrains from guitar solos throughout the album. And then comes Anti-Hero, snarling guitars and Rock drums, Corgan's way of reminding you after this journey that he had a map rolled up in his back pocket the entire time.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.25 out of 5.
The OCD zone- This section is about the packaging, which in the case of the CD is a Digipak with plastic hub and eight page booklet.