Neil Young (guitars & vocals) – Le Noise – Reprise Records 180-gram audiophile vinyl 525956-1, 37:48 *****:
At times, Neil Young has been an integral part of iconic bands. His work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young elevated them to Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame stature. More often, Young has found his true muse in solo projects. The albums with his “garage” band, Crazy Horse, laid the groundwork for grunge music. Intuitively, he would release a subsequent acoustic album (After The Gold Rush, Harvest) that would offer some of the best songwriting in the last forty years. Then again, he might release an electronic project, theme-based soundtrack, or experimental venture. Never playing it safe, he is willing to follow his vision, regardless of critics or fans. What aficionados of this maverick can expect is something they haven’t heard before.
Le Noise is Young’s thirty-fourth solo album. Recorded at the Silver Lake home of producer Daniel Lanois (title pun intended), the album features Young primarily on electric guitar and vocals. However, Lanois invokes his customary sonic muscle to get a big sound. Young’s guitar work has never been better, possessing the raunchy jagged auditory themes of the Crazy Horse projects. The opening guitar fanfare in “Walk With Me” crackles with echoes, fades and distortion, as the distinctive high tenor relates a plaintive tale of loss. This murky acoustic is repeated on “Sign Of Love”, that has riffs reminiscent of “Cinnamon Girl” in their primitive crescendo-laden rawness. Despite the stark narratives on love and life, there is a surprising urgency to the messages. “It’s An Angry World” is full of chord changes and takes full advantage of vocal echo technology. A wry commentary (“It’s an angry world for the businessman and the fisherman”) serves notice that this ageless rocker has not lost any sarcastic vitriol.
On many of Young’s albums, there are brilliant songs that capture an epic tale. Such is the case with “The Hitchhiker”, a cautionary tale about his relocation from Ontario to California. The familiar themes of drug abuse, stardom and limited redemption are sketched with emotional vocals and furtive guitar strumming. A philosophical refrain,( “I tried to leave my past behind, but it’s catching up to me”) becomes a signature keynote for the inexorable march to survive. The other centerpiece, “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” is one of two acoustic numbers. With a clearer sound mix, this elegiac opus relates Western culture’s doomed fate, told with analogies of bullets, gold and even electric cars. Young has always been a dexterous acoustic guitar player, and the trademark chords still seem fresh. At one point, his voice cracks, but it only serves to underscore the poignancy. These are not updated Neil Young tunes. They ring with a contemporary authenticity.
With eight songs, coming in at a brisk thirty-eight minutes, the pace has the unmistakable feel of a vintage LP. The analogue sound mix creates a fuzzy, muddled, but intricate resonance. There is a great depth of textured layered guitar tones that is nothing short of captivating. Young’s peerless voice is clear and wistfully melodic. Le Noise is dazzling, and a tribute to a premier musician.
TrackList: Walk With Me; Sign Of Love; Someone’s Going To Rescue You; Love and War; It’s An Angry World; The Hitchhiker; Peaceful Valley Boulevard; Rumblin’
— Robbie Gerson