Saturday, October 16, 2010

Album Review: Neil Young - Le Noise

The best Neil Young albums tend to be the ‘rocking’ albums with Crazy Horse (Zuma, Rust Never Sleeps) or the acoustic, stripped down albums (After the Gold Rush, On the Beach etc). His new album is neither of these but sits apart as a curious beast. The album consists entirely of Neil Young and his guitar, accompanied by producer Daniel Lanois’ effects. So no bass, no drums. And Neil’s guitar is mostly plugged in.

On the electric songs his guitar sounds immense, though without any other instruments the effect is a little disorientating, until you get used to it. In actual fact a lot of the songs sound like they would transfer well on to an acoustic guitar. Although it’s the strongest collection of songs for some time from Neil Young, he doesn’t frontload the album, and the opening 2 tracks are 2 of the weaker ones.

Walk With Me is a reasonable enough track which showcases Young’s guitar sound and Lanois’ production, which relies on the use of loops, bleeps etc, which occupy the last minute or so of the song. Sign of Love references Drive Back, which is to my ears, the least successful track on Zuma. Similarly on this album, this track is relatively pedestrian.

Someone’s Gonna Rescue You takes a little inspiration from the midsection of The Doors’ The End. While it sounds unremarkable at first, its overall ‘spaciness’ creeps up on you, though Neil Young’s high-pitched vocal doesn’t quite suit the song. Still it’s an improvement on the opening tracks. There’s a hint of Old Man in the melody, though it’s well buried by guitar and studio trickery.

The 2 acoustic tracks Love and War and Peaceful Valley Boulevard are as strong a pair of song as anything in his back catalogue. Love and War sounds like a classic Neil Young acoustic track. Without making it sound like this album is playing spot the old song reference, the melody is a little reminiscent of Hey Hey, My My. There’s a Spanish feel to the middle of this track, along the lines of Freedom’s Eldorado with some wonderful guitar playing.

After the return of the loops and heavy guitar that is Angry World, Hitchhiker is probably the strongest of the electric tracks, with a powerful vocal over a vintage Neil Young guitar progression. The aforementioned acoustic Peaceful Valley Boulevard is excellent, with echoes of Pocahontas running through it. The similarities are subtle, none of these tracks sound overly like anything else in his catalogue. Only with repeated listens do some of the melodies start to evoke older tracks. The guitar playing in this track gives it a particularly lonely feel, aided by excellent production.

Rumblin’ is the final track, and has another fine melody as Neil Young exhorts himself, singing “when will I learn how to listen”. Though the album’s initially a little difficult, it sounds better and better the more you listen to it, and there’s no real precedent for it in Neil Young’s vast back catalogue. It’s great that he’s pushing himself to do something new.