Sunday, September 19, 2010
'Le Noise' another milestone for Neil Young
Today, I had a chance to get my first couple of listens of Neil Young's forthcoming release Le Noise. This is an epic and powerful collection (set for release on Reprise Records on Sept. 28) that defies easy description via words alone. I look forward to playing this album as much as I can in the weeks ahead to get more familiar with the sound revealed across the eight original songs that make this album so special.
Even after a single listen, the album's sound and style will amaze long-time fans of Neil Young who thought they knew the legendary singer-songwriter's sonic language inside and out. Make no mistake; the songs and sonic landscape on Le Noise are much bigger than the much-publicized mere presence of Young and his guitar. No bass. No drums. No harmonica (at least that I have detected). Le Noise may come in at under 38 minutes, but I think this disc takes listeners to places few artists have the courage to go.
"Walk With Me" kicks things off. A mix of chords and fills delivered with distorted guitar and howling feedback, Young's vocals soar and echo around the electronica-tinged in-your-face guitar. A tale of deep love proclaimed from a rock 'n' roll rooftop. The song's final moments are beautiful as the heavy chords morph into gentler overtones of noises from Young's guitar.
"Sign of Love" as a song recalls Young's tender and classic acoustic ballads, but the heavy guitar and overall sound of Daniel Lanois' production brings something new here. At times the guitar is decidedly distorted, but the song's beauty never falters.
"Someone's Gonna Rescue You" finds Young singing at the top of his vocal range, with the track's echo and cascading guitar recalling a kind of Radiohead meets Buffalo Springfield mash-up.
"Love and War" shocks. The acoustic guitar comes in, clear and folky. Then Young's sweet tenor emerges, to deliver a heartfelt examination at the human cost of war and his own life-long quest to chronicle the emotional weight of humanity's inhumanity. As the song goes along, there is some great flamenco touches that Young plays that are especially fitting too.
"Angry World" harkens back to Young's most politically-charged songs. Obviously an artist tuned into the pulse of the nation, I think this is a song where everybody will see a bit of their self here.
"Hitchhiker" is a confessional song where Young recalls his youth, leaving his native Canada for California. The most interesting part of the tale is how Young confronts his own inability to deal with his early fame, and subsequent battles with drug use and more recent health scares (including treatment related to a brain aneurysm in March 2005). In the end, Young bravely admits his mortality, and tenderly sings of the love of his children and wife. A life's tale told in rich detail, in only 5 minutes and 32 seconds.
"Peaceful Valley Boulevard" is an acoustic-styled song that mirrors the power of early Young epics like "Cortez the Killer," "Pocahontas" and "Powderfinger." A powerful song of the white settlers destroying the Great Plains that segues into our treatment of earth in the 21st century. One line really struck me on the first listen of this beautiful song and continues to stir me: "Before the west was won, there was a cost." At the end of the song, Young wonders who will protect God's creations. Images of a doomed planet come to mind in this thoughtful and ultimately tragic story of our planet's natural beauty that continues to be lost at a relentless pace.
"Rumblin'" is the sound of Young's mind at work; here is the soon-to-be 65 artist looking at the quickly-changing world. We hear his attempt to get a bead on it.
In the end Le Noise may be so special because Neil Young is the only artist who could have written and performed it, while Lanois had the studio craft and magical sense to make it happen.