Classic Rock Review

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Neil Young Le Noise (2010)

download (5)From pitchfork.com

Even by his own unpredictable standards, Neil Young’s had a pretty contradictory decade. The confusingly titled Chrome Dreams II was one highlight, but some of its best tracks were decades-old. Last year’s Fork in the Road was a lark, a neo-concept album about electric cars whose humor undersold Young’s convictions. His angriest albums, Living With War and Greendale, were each instantly dated time capsules. His prettiest, Silver & Gold and Prairie Wind, were also pretty disposable, and there are likely about as many people who pull out Are You Passionate? as there are those waiting for a Road Rock Vol. 2.

Yet all those subpar, uneven, or just plain odd releases matter, because they show the guy’s still trying to bottle whatever it is that’s been swimming in his soul for the better part of five full decades. Which brings us to Le Noise, Young’s perhaps inevitable team-up with famed producer Daniel Lanois. The album features mostly just Young, electric guitar, and a battery of effects– echoing, resonating, occasionally roaring, and raging. Not that Young necessarily needs all that. With his sneering warble and ragged but right guitar playing, he’s always been his own best effect, but here Young and Lanois relish the happy accidents both producer and artist have always embraced, resisting the urge to sand off the jagged edges into the ambient ether.

Of course, ambience is a big part of Le Noise’s widescreen appeal, and Young’s playing is as intriguingly exploratory as it is sometimes explosive, taking advantage of Lanois’ trademark bag of tricks like a kid testing pedals in a guitar store. Still, given its familiar crunch and gait, it’s hard to hear Le Noise without imagining the famously ramshackle backing of Crazy Horse anchoring the riffy murk of songs like “Walk With Me”, “Sign of Love”, “Angry World” or even the queasy, off-kilter “Rumblin'”.

Admittedly, the lyrical nod in the long unreleased drug epic “Hitchhiker” (which has been floating around in some form for years) to Trans’ “Like an Inca” implies Young understands he’s working in curveball mode. Regardless, there’s never any denying the guy on the mound– Le Noise is as closely linked to Young’s primal instincts as anything in his catalog. Like many of Young’s most formidable works, the specter of death hangs over the record, too, specifically his recently passed collaborators Larry “L.A.” Johnson and especially long-serving guitarist Ben Keith.

Considering the demons creeping deep through the disc, it’s perhaps no surprise that the sole pair of acoustic tracks, “Love and War” and “Peaceful Valley Boulevard”, are as heavy as the louder tracks, their relative clarity almost disconcertingly intimate compared to the surrounding racket. In fact, for all its hushed restraint, the eerie “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” is a real highlight, a paean to a doomed America that plays like a tragic lyrical descendent of “Pocahontas” and “Cortez the Killer”. Young may be famous for his maelstrom guitar, but in this case the apocalypse sneaks up on us with a whisper, Young’s voice steeped in decades of watching the world go to hell. “When will I learn how to heal?” he later implores in “Rumblin'”, knowing full well that the damage has already been done.

February 23, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Le Noise | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Le Noise (2010)

download (5)From The Guardian

It perhaps befits a wilfully contrary artist that a bad review might act as the best advert imaginable for his new album. One august rock critic has already deemed Le Noise, his collaboration with U2 and Dylan producer Daniel Lanois, unlistenable. It’s a response that should cause the ears of long-term Young fans to prick up. His worst records don’t really incite that kind of violent reaction: they’re just boring. Furthermore, someone like him said something like that at every vital moment in Young’s career – from David Crosby’s spluttering disbelief that he’d abandon CSNY for Crazy Horse, a band that “never should have been allowed to be musicians at all”, to the yells of horror that greeted Tonight’s the Night, to Graham Nash’s response to 1988’s return-to-raging-form Eldorado: “I absolutely hate this record.” It’s hard not to picture the august rock critic huffing away without thinking: “Hmm, this could be interesting.”

Your interest might be piqued further not so much by Lanois’s sonic approach – which largely sets Young’s singing against the sound of his own ferociously distorted electric guitar, occasionally looping his voice to unsettling effect – but by the circumstances surrounding the album. While you don’t want to wish the old guy any ill, contentment doesn’t suit Neil Young, at least artistically. His best work – from 1974’s On the Beach to 1995’s Sleeps With Angels – has been born out of turmoil, and Le Noise arrives haunted. Filmmaker Larry Johnson, who collaborated with Young for four decades, died suddenly in January, while longstanding sideman Ben Keith died of a heart attack at Young’s home in July. Judging by Le Noise’s contents, their deaths seem to have simultaneously rattled and re-energised him.

Whatever the qualities of his recent fair-to-middling efforts – they all had their moments – his songwriting here sounds more pointed and self-aware than it has in years. “Walk with me,” suggests Young on the album opener. A cynical voice – possibly belonging to Crosby, Stills, Nash or another musician who’s enjoyed a mercurial relationship with him over the years – might note that this is a fairly resistible offer, given that walking with Neil Young almost invariably ends in Neil Young suddenly buggering off with someone else and abandoning you in the middle of nowhere. But Young is there before you: “I lost some people I was travelling with,” he cries, sounding genuinely regretful, as the song dissolves into tumultuous feedback.

In recent years, Young has dipped into his vast catalogue of unreleased songs in order to prop up albums of uninspired latterday material, with inevitable results. The 25-year-old Ordinary People was so much better than anything else on Chrome Dreams II that it sparked glum thoughts. Even his material from the 80s – a decade when Young was widely presumed to have gone completely bananas, given that he spent it insisting A Flock of Seagulls were the future of music and worrying that Aids could be transmitted by touching potatoes that had been handled by gay men – was vastly superior to the contemporary stuff.

This time, however, an old song works, partly because it doesn’t overshadow everything around it: Hitchhiker was written around the time of 1992’s Harvest Moon, but fits far better here alongside Rumblin’s dark intimations of nameless dread and the uncertainty and cynicism of Angry World than with Harvest Moon’s aura of middle-aged contentment: “Everything’s gonna be alright yeah,” he sings, sounding exactly like the nervous, abrasive young man who screamed at his hippy fans to wake the fuck up in the early 70s. A weird lyric even by the standards of a man given to writing songs about riding a llama across Texas in order to smoke weed with Martians, it details the various drugs that Young took at different junctures in his career – “then I tried amphetamines” – before inexplicably bursting into the chorus of an entirely different song, Like An Inca. Perhaps he figured that, as Like An Inca came at the end of his synth-pop experiment, Trans, an album all but the doughtiest listener bails out of pretty quickly, no one would actually notice. Hitchhiker seems of a piece with two earlier slices of ponderous and troubled autobiography, 1970’s Helpless and 1973’s Don’t Be Denied. But while the former found solace in the “dream comfort memories” of childhood, and the latter in Young’s own obstreperousness, here there’s no relief: just a despairing howl of bewilderment and fear at encroaching old age – “I’ve tried to leave my past behind, but it’s catching up with me” – then Young’s voice, spookily looped into incomprehension over a final, doomy chord.

Occasionally, the confusion and grief seems to overwhelm the songs: Love and War quickly establishes that Young has written a lodda songs about love and a lodda songs about war, but still doesn’t understand either, then spends five trying minutes telling you that a lodda times. More often, however, it leads to something gripping and fresh and honest. Le Noise demands more effort than some listeners might be willing to put in, but at its best, it repays that effort pretty handsomely. In that sense at least, it pretty much sums up Neil Young’s entire career.

February 20, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Le Noise | | Leave a comment

Neil Young’s Le Noise (2010)

From The BBC

Neil Young now belongs to that rare stratum of artists whose work is no longer judged purely on its merits but on the basis of its status within their catalogue. As with Dylan and Bowie, interest lies not only in whether the latest record stands up to repeated listening, but what it says about them within the context of their career. So when Le Noise was announced, most stories focussed on the fact that it sees the veteran collaborate with Grammy-winning producer Daniel Lanois, previously responsible for records from Dylan (of course), Peter Gabriel and Emmylou Harris, and who here has reduced Young’s backing to (mainly) electric guitar and Lanois’ own “sonics”. It sounded like one for the musos.

But what this means is that when Walk With Me opens the album with one crunching, distorted chord, it sounds like Crazy Horse, his sometime backing band, are about to unleash hell’s fury. Instead, Young’s trademark impassioned whine insists “I’ll never let you down no matter what you do if you just walk me”, while he chops out chords that decay like thunder, Lanois adding a few restrained vocal loops and guitar treatments. There are no drums, no hurricane solos and, it has to be said, no great signs of a melody. In fact this at first sounds as though Young is merely demoing new songs, feeling his way through them, trying to decide whether they would work better if they rocked with a band or instead reached back to the tender acoustics of Harvest. His research appears to have been inconclusive.

This being a Neil Young album, however, it’s worth returning to, and what initially appeared indecisive reveals itself as an experiment in the rejection of standard rock arrangements. Le Noise therefore remains reasonably accessible, Young’s lyrics still as appealingly forthright as his playing, his melodies slowly rising through the unsettling, growling dirge. Hitchhiker sees Young look back over his life atop a bare and formidable landscape; Rumbling is plaintive yet full of an urgent energy, Young’s voice vulnerable but resolute, while Lanois’ greatest contribution is arguably his general absence.

It’s not an easy listen, obviously, but acclimatisation to the unfamiliar, monochromatic sound of such raw electric guitar brings with it the ability to recognise that Young’s songwriting skills haven’t dulled with age. Examined as a part of his overall body of work, furthermore, it’s amongst the more fascinating left turns he’s made, and once again confirms the evergreen restlessness of this gnarly and frequently inspiring Canadian. Once again, he’s not let us down.

February 24, 2011 Posted by | Neil Young Le Noise | | Leave a comment

Neil Young: Le Noise (2010)

From Popmatters.com

Neil Young is easily the most frustrating of the old-school rock legends. His M.O. puts a premium on spontaneity, which means that a number of his albums feature ideas that could have benefited from a little refinement, or, in some cases, that should not have come to fruition at all (“I’ll write an album about my electric car!”). At the same time, though, this approach has also yielded his most compelling music, including some made after many of his contemporaries had ceased even aspiring to relevance. This is why I’m not alone in believing that Neil Young has one more classic album left in him, when few would express similar hopes about, say, the Rolling Stones. I’ve also been afraid that this great album would trickle out, one song at a time, over Young’s next eight or nine records.

But then comes “Hitchhiker”, and it’s incredible. It’s as nakedly personal as anything Young has written since the Ditch Trilogy. The first several verses are straight autobiography, a laundry list of drugs, infidelities, and other transgressions. About four minutes in, it takes a turn for the surreal: “I thought I was an Aztec / Or a runner in Peru.” Young has previously said that his songs often don’t have literal meanings, so much as connotative meanings arising from words and dreamlike images. But coming after verses with such clear autobiographical content, and relying on such well-worn Young tropes as time travel and indigenous peoples, it’s hard not to see this as some sort of commentary on Young’s songwriting, perhaps as a vehicle for escape. After that verse, the song ends abruptly on a more direct and sobering note:

I tried to leave my past behind
But it’s catching up with me …
I don’t know how I’m standing here
Living in my life
I’m thankful for my children
And my faithful wife

The juxtaposition of the Incan fantasy and this conclusion seems to present an intriguing dilemma: disappear into art and fiction (and drugs), or take a chance on real-world redemption, which carries with it the inescapable fact of past mistakes? “Hitchhiker” also casts some previous songs in a new light, perhaps revealing the source of some of the frustration in “Angry World”, and amplifying the reflective tone of “Love and War”. In short, it’s exactly the sort of song you’d hope to hear from an elder statesman of rock and roll: mature, with wisdom and perspective, but still vital and rebellious.

It would almost have to be downhill from there. “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” is the most traditional Neil Young-type song on here, a seven-minute epic about westward expansion. Its lyrics about massacred buffalo and pollution could have been trite in lesser hands, but here Young conjures up a kind of aching majesty—sort of a Californian “Cortez the Killer”. “Rumblin’” ends proceedings on an ominous note, combining imagery both natural (“I feel a rumblin’ in the ground”) and personal (“When will I learn how to feel?”).

By turns mellow and heavy, personal and abstract, Le Noise encapsulates nearly everything that you’d want or need from a Neil Young album, and does so in a novel yet organic way. That Young takes risks with his music at this stage in his career is remarkable enough; that this one has paid off so handsomely is nothing short of spectacular. Welcome back, Shakey.

Thankfully, Le Noise solves that. It’s fantastic. It’s his best in decades, at least since Ragged Glory.

It’s also without a clear precedent in Young’s catalogue. Sidestepping the mellow acoustic/barnstorming electric dichotomy that characterizes nearly everything Young has done, Le Noise is solo electric—just Young and his crushing guitar. It’s loud and heavy enough to satisfy adrenaline junkies and Crazy Horse fans, but retains a starkness and immediacy that would be difficult to replicate in a full-band setting. Its relatively concise 38-minute runtime keeps the admittedly limited sonic palette from wearing thin, and the swirling echoes of Young’s voice and guitar (presumably courtesy of producer Daniel Lanois) fill out the sound, and add an air of psychedelic mystery.

The opening songs, “Walk with Me” and “Sign of Love” are perhaps the record’s least successful. They’re still really good, mind you; it’s just not until the minor arpeggios and falsetto vocals of “Someone’s Gonna Rescue You” that the album truly kicks into high gear. “Love and War” changes the tone with an acoustic folk song about the titular topics, as well as a songwriter’s attempts to make sense of them. “Angry World” marries ambiguous lyrics that are either a howl of frustration or a condemnation of bitterness and cynicism to a brutally heavy riff. It works. It’s awesome.

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Neil Young Le Noise | | Leave a comment

Neil Young: Le Noise (2010)

From The Guardian

It perhaps befits a wilfully contrary artist that a bad review might act as the best advert imaginable for his new album. One august rock critic has already deemed Le Noise, his collaboration with U2 and Dylan producer Daniel Lanois, unlistenable. It’s a response that should cause the ears of long-term Young fans to prick up. His worst records don’t really incite that kind of violent reaction: they’re just boring. Furthermore, someone like him said something like that at every vital moment in Young’s career – from David Crosby’s spluttering disbelief that he’d abandon CSNY for Crazy Horse, a band that “never should have been allowed to be musicians at all”, to the yells of horror that greeted Tonight’s the Night, to Graham Nash’s response to 1988’s return-to-raging-form Eldorado: “I absolutely hate this record.” It’s hard not to picture the august rock critic huffing away without thinking: “Hmm, this could be interesting.”

Your interest might be piqued further not so much by Lanois’s sonic approach – which largely sets Young’s singing against the sound of his own ferociously distorted electric guitar, occasionally looping his voice to unsettling effect – but by the circumstances surrounding the album. While you don’t want to wish the old guy any ill, contentment doesn’t suit Neil Young, at least artistically. His best work – from 1974’s On the Beach to 1995’s Sleeps With Angels – has been born out of turmoil, and Le Noise arrives haunted. Filmmaker Larry Johnson, who collaborated with Young for four decades, died suddenly in January, while longstanding sideman Ben Keith died of a heart attack at Young’s home in July. Judging by Le Noise’s contents, their deaths seem to have simultaneously rattled and re-energised him.

Whatever the qualities of his recent fair-to-middling efforts – they all had their moments – his songwriting here sounds more pointed and self-aware than it has in years. “Walk with me,” suggests Young on the album opener. A cynical voice – possibly belonging to Crosby, Stills, Nash or another musician who’s enjoyed a mercurial relationship with him over the years – might note that this is a fairly resistible offer, given that walking with Neil Young almost invariably ends in Neil Young suddenly buggering off with someone else and abandoning you in the middle of nowhere. But Young is there before you: “I lost some people I was travelling with,” he cries, sounding genuinely regretful, as the song dissolves into tumultuous feedback.

In recent years, Young has dipped into his vast catalogue of unreleased songs in order to prop up albums of uninspired latterday material, with inevitable results. The 25-year-old Ordinary People was so much better than anything else on Chrome Dreams II that it sparked glum thoughts. Even his material from the 80s – a decade when Young was widely presumed to have gone completely bananas, given that he spent it insisting A Flock of Seagulls were the future of music and worrying that Aids could be transmitted by touching potatoes that had been handled by gay men – was vastly superior to the contemporary stuff.

This time, however, an old song works, partly because it doesn’t overshadow everything around it: Hitchhiker was written around the time of 1992’s Harvest Moon, but fits far better here alongside Rumblin’s dark intimations of nameless dread and the uncertainty and cynicism of Angry World than with Harvest Moon’s aura of middle-aged contentment: “Everything’s gonna be alright yeah,” he sings, sounding exactly like the nervous, abrasive young man who screamed at his hippy fans to wake the fuck up in the early 70s. A weird lyric even by the standards of a man given to writing songs about riding a llama across Texas in order to smoke weed with Martians, it details the various drugs that Young took at different junctures in his career – “then I tried amphetamines” – before inexplicably bursting into the chorus of an entirely different song, Like An Inca. Perhaps he figured that, as Like An Inca came at the end of his synth-pop experiment, Trans, an album all but the doughtiest listener bails out of pretty quickly, no one would actually notice. Hitchhiker seems of a piece with two earlier slices of ponderous and troubled autobiography, 1970’s Helpless and 1973’s Don’t Be Denied. But while the former found solace in the “dream comfort memories” of childhood, and the latter in Young’s own obstreperousness, here there’s no relief: just a despairing howl of bewilderment and fear at encroaching old age – “I’ve tried to leave my past behind, but it’s catching up with me” – then Young’s voice, spookily looped into incomprehension over a final, doomy chord.

Occasionally, the confusion and grief seems to overwhelm the songs: Love and War quickly establishes that Young has written a lodda songs about love and a lodda songs about war, but still doesn’t understand either, then spends five trying minutes telling you that a lodda times. More often, however, it leads to something gripping and fresh and honest. Le Noise demands more effort than some listeners might be willing to put in, but at its best, it repays that effort pretty handsomely. In that sense at least, it pretty much sums up Neil Young’s entire career.

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Neil Young Le Noise | | Leave a comment