First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2010, Volume 17, #11
Written by John Metzger
Thu November 18, 2010, 06:30 AM CST
Earlier this year, Neil Young lost his longtime collaborator Ben Keith to a heart attack. Considering that Keith had been an integral part of Young’s creative process for decades, this was bound to have an impact on his output. In fact, in response to Keith’s death, Young proclaimed that he had no choice but to retire a large portion of his catalogue. Young’s latest set Le Noise already was a work-in-progress when Keith passed away. Featuring only Young and his guitars, the endeavor, strangely enough, not only sounds like a eulogy for his pal, but it also feels like the sort of bold reinvention that Keith’s departure inevitably would have inspired.
Produced by Daniel Lanois, Le Noise is an utterly disorienting endeavor that doesn’t reach the apex of its potency until it has been heard at least a half-dozen times. Without a doubt, in the absence of drums and bass, it is an intimate affair. Young’s voice assumes an anguished but personal tone as it whips through the album’s sonic maelstrom of guitar-based sounds. Yet, despite the close proximity of the material, Le Noise is meant to be played at full volume, so that every sound that Young coaxes from his guitar can be felt with bone-crushing force. Through headphones, the dizzying array of noises and effects are transformed into an ethereal, three-dimensional world, filled with Young’s memories, thoughts, feelings, and reflections about life, love, and politics.
Much has been made about Lanois’ involvement in the making of Le Noise. Some fans have expressed frustration with his approach to Young’s material, though this could be, in part, a backlash against the way that Lanois has discussed his importance to the project. Regardless, Lanois was the perfect choice to produce the affair. Without him, Le Noise wouldn’t have been nearly as effective. After all, the central riffs and melodies that drive each of the tracks on the endeavor are typical of Young’s work. At their very core, they drift between the electric stomp of Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) and its acoustic counterpart My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue). In essence, then, the new songs are distinguished by the strange loops and sounds that Lanois sculpted from his sessions with Young.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Le Noise stems from its lyrical tone rather than its music. Throughout his career, whenever Young has made a statement — whether it was to support Ronald Reagan, lambaste President Bush, promote the use of electric vehicles, or decry the destruction of the world’s environment — he has relayed his point with the utmost conviction. Therefore, it’s strange to hear Young sound so uncertain of himself on Le Noise. Spurred, perhaps, by his mammoth Anthology project, Young ponders many of the paths he has taken in his life. Repeatedly, he concludes that the only things he can trust are his rock-solid relationships with his wife and kids.
Lanois’ edgy production style not only characterizes the haziness in Young’s mind, but it also gives his lyrics more heft. When he sings about dedication and perseverance on Walk with Me and Sign of Love, the swirling atmospherics echo the chaos of life. Elsewhere, they bring turbulence to It’s an Angry World and lend an harrowing presence to The Hitchhiker. When Young dons his acoustic guitar for Love and War and Peaceful Valley Boulevard, Lanois appropriately takes a subtler approach. The results, however, are equally haunting.
Le Noise is as much a protest album as it is a sermon. Much to the dismay of some fans, Young has had a tendency of late to sound like an angry, old man, harping about social and political issues without caring whether he loses some people along the way. On Le Noise, Young still addresses these difficult topics, but with Lanois’ help, he found a way of making them more comprehensible, if only because he presents them from a humanistic, instead of an elitist, perspective. ½
Of Further Interest...
Le Noise is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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