Neil Young is a very productive musician who tends to release a new album nearly every year. What makes and keeps his music interesting is that he can’t be limited to one genre and certainly likes to experiment. He played almost soft country music as well as totally overdriven electro rock, but it was his understanding of hard rock that made him the “Godfather of Grunge”.
Le Noise is another album in this vein. Announced as a solo album, Le Noise indeed only features Neil Young on guitar. But don’t expect a simple songwriter playing his acoustic guitar – it’s totally different this time.
The opener Walk With Me immediately blows the listener away with a heavily distorted wall of sound. But it’s only one man playing one guitar, which is specific for this album. It has been the idea of Daniel Lanois, a famous producer (Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Bob Dylan, U2) and musician himself, to create these soundscapes out of loops, feedback and noise – hence the album’s title.
Only two songs feature Neil Young on acoustic guitar but even these sounds have been electrified in a way. They were the first songs to be recorded. And like all songs, they have been recorded at Daniel Lanois’ mansion somewhere near Los Angeles. Love And War is a ballad about the war in Iraq but it also reflects parts of the singer’s personal life. In fact, many lyrical passages of this album are very personal. Neil Young has recently lost two of his closest friends, the film producer Larry “L. A.” Johnson and Ben Keith, his pedal steel guitarist since 1971. While still recording, his new producer Daniel Lanois nearly died during a motorcycle accident. This explains the overall very dark tone of this album: death and salvation seem to be near, but life is still there and won’t give up.
The other acoustic song is Peaceful Valley Boulevard, one of the best tracks of this album. Acting as a classic storyteller on this one, Neil Young puts the whole American history into a few lines, backed only by his beautiful guitar sound. Daniel Lanois created a special enhanced acoustic guitar that creates deep bass sounds as well as slight electronics, beside the usual sound.
Sign Of Love and Someone’s Gonna Rescue You are supreme rockers with great lyrics dealing with Neil Young’s most important theme: love. The riffs in these two songs might remind the listener of the old Buffalo Springfield days back in the 60’s but they still sound very fresh. This is timeless rock music to the core.
Angry World starts with vocal loops and showcases Daniel Lanois’ production talents, making this track the most electronic of the whole album. The lyrics are so simple but they say it all – all about the recession and the hard times of today’s world. But in the end it will all work out, just like before.
Rumblin’ is the closing track, another darker piece which leaves the listener wanting more. Be prepared: both Neil Young and Daniel Lanois have announced that they will stay in touch and might record more songs and explore new “sonics”, to use the word that Le Noise is all about.
But there is one more song: the center piece Hitchhiker, a monolith with its powerful sound and honest lyrics about drug abuse and (near) self-destruction. Although the track dates back to the Harvest Moon sessions in the early 90’s, now is the perfect time to release it. The guitar drones and roars, feedback attacks from every side and Neil Young’s voice is the only guideline. Echoes, feedback and looped vocal scraps let the song dissolve into silence.
This is Le Noise, one of the best albums Neil Young has ever made – a true masterpiece.
written by Wolfgang Merx