Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CD Review - Neil Young - Le Noise

I never know what to expect from Neil Young, and I like that about him. But what it means is that I approach each new release with caution. I am not a 'completist' who feels the need to own everything he has ever put out. I check out the videos, the samples on iTunes etc. More often than not these days, I actually pass on Neil's new stuff.

But I have been fired up to get Neil's new Le Noise album ever since I saw the video for Walk With Me. Available today, this is a special Neil release unlike anything he has ever given us. And as a guitar player who also loves raw tones, gritty production and 'real' playing, there is a lot to love. From the insane overdriven electric of Walk With Me to the gorgeous acoustic tone of Peaceful Valley Boulevard, Neil hits this one so far out of the park, the ball is the next county.

The closest I can compare Le Noise to is some of the material from Paul McCartney and Youth's The Fireman Electric Arguments album, which I also love for its sonic insanity and experimental bent.

One of my favorite Neil albums is Ragged Glory from 1990, with Crazy Horse. On Le Noise he has the same dirty-assed electric guitar tone but no band. The absence of bass and guitar leaves room for all sorts of ear candy. Weird effects on the voice, delay loops on everything, ghost guitars in the background.

The opening track, Walk With Me sets the stage for the whole album - Neil solo on gritty electric with delays and loops on the vocals. The next tune, Sign of Love, could be great with Crazy Horse - sounds like an outtake from Ragged Glory. Track 5, Angry World, is so far my favorite tune - it could be a beautiful acoustic song, but Neil chooses to deliver it in what sounds like the same tuning and tone as Cinnamon Girl, with a mesmerizing vocal loop that runs underneath the whole song.

There are two straight acoustic tunes on Le Noise as well, and these are up there with Neil's best. For example, Love and War is an INCREDIBLE song, vocally, melodically, everything. Neil sings, "I've sang songs about love, I've sang songs about war, since the back streets of Toronto." Yes he has. The song is gorgeous and poignant but again, in the hands of Crazy Horse this song will be a killer live.

The other acoustic song, Peaceful Valley Boulevard, clocks in at a hair more than seven minutes and is stony and slow, but with that 'drunken Indian' chunky rhythm Neil has been using since Down By The River. Despite a couple of lyrical head scratchers, those seven minutes go by fast.

Vocally, Neil vacillates between powerful over-the top shouting a la Rockin In The Free World and fragile delivery like on Silver and Gold. Props to producer Daniel Lanois who made the production on the whole CD something really special. Lanois clearly encouraged Neil to be as live and crazy as he could. There are loads of mic pops, string slides, amp hum and general noisiness especially as the songs fade out.

Side note - why does Neil always have a Stones rip off on his best CDs? The chorus to Hitchhiker is basically No Expectations from Beggar's Banquet, and I have lost count of how many times Neil has nicked a variation of the Jumpin Jack Flash riff, from Crime in the City to Welfare Mothers to Mr Soul!

On the CD closer, Rumblin', it sounds like Lanois just fed the whole damn mix through a fuzz box as Neil sings "when will I learn how to listen, when will I learn how to feel, when will I learn how to give back, when will I learn how to heal?" Awesome closer.

There are only eight songs on this CD but that is plenty. The sonic experimentation on six of these eight is really interesting and sets the whole mood of course, but at the core the songs are good too - it's not just a gimmick. It would be classic for Neil to put out Le Noise part two and do all these songs with a band. I'd buy that too.

Here is the video that got me fired up for this album in the first place:


Chris said...

I'm sold. I'm going to go get it today!

drewzepmeister said...

Saw the the video on Seano's blog. Was impressed. Read the review here. Just got back from the store with the CD. Gonna listen to it tonight

Seano said...

This is the best review you've ever done. Really love the drunken indian description...absolutely perfect. Shit, i don't even wanna review it now and I've heard it 20 times. Peaceful Valley and Love and War are my favs. BTW I'll be in Portland next weekend DUDE! My bud is getting married and we might tear it up Sat night(when I get aint till tues...hit me up!