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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Critics Go GaGa Over New Neil Young Album Le Noise

With ever increasing intensity as the release of Neil Young's Le Noise approaches, critics are waxing rhapsodic over the album.

Reading some of the latest reviews, we find ourselves shaking our heads at critics (and even some "fair weather music fans" too) for re-discovering Neil Young's unique charms and peculiar fondness for turning expectations on their heads. As if Neil has somehow re-emerged from the shadows of creativity and returned to form.

As David Geffen would say, "Neil Young is finally back making Neil Young music again."

From a must read review in The Guardian | Neil Young: Le Noise | CD review | Music by Alexis Petridis:
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.

From Irish Independent | Music: Neil Young by John Meagher:
Anyone under the mistaken impression that Young's best days are behind him needs to hear the album's six-minute centrepiece, Love and War. Clearly autobiographical, the song packs a devastating emotional punch as Neil's rasping vocals sing of the utter futility of war. It's a fantastic song -- in its own way as special as The Needle and the Damage Done.

Lyrically, Young is on the top of his game.
There isn't a wasted word, especially on the self-referencing Hitchhiker. 'I was living on the road/A little cocaine went a long long way/To ease that different load/But my head did explode.'

From | Neil Young: Le Noise "A modern-grit reflective masterpiece from the godfather of grunge" by Johnny Firecloud:
The resulting sound is fantastic, a fullness that serves as the train on which we're taken to a place of renewed vitality from a man known for his searing meditations on planetary ruin and the quest for true love's compassion in a sea of empty hearts. Staying true to the emotion of the moment was crucial to the recording, which took place over the span of four full moons.

The revitalization of focused purpose is immediately apparent in opener "Walk With Me," a high-stepping yet prickly love song where the tenderness is more of a scar than an entry point. At the three minute mark, just before the song dissolves into a beautifully dissonant mess of loops, blips and reverb, you can hear Young lament, “I lost some people I was travelling with, I miss the soul and the old friendship”. Bereavement is the subtle flavor here, the ever-shifting cloud beneath the water's surface that gives Le Noise a subtle poignance.

There's a stark vulnerability to the album that evokes Dylan's magnificent Time Out Of Mind, determinedly moving forward despite the lingering pain of cruel reality. The weight of mortality is far more than a mere dramatic device; within the last year, two of Young’s closest friends and collaborators died - filmmaker Larry “L.A.” Johnson and multi-instrumentalist/producer Ben Keith. Keith’s death leaves a hole in Young’s touring band that's forever altered the icon's live performance.

From Los Angeles Times:
At times, the sound heats up, as on the earnest “Walk With Me” and the Bo Diddley-touched “Rumblin'.” But in general, this is an easy album to enjoy, something not always true of Young’s recent output. The treatments Lanois gives Young’s raw performances don’t distract from their basic emotional tone, and if the lyrics sometime seem simplistic, Young’s worn, gentle vocals lend them an authenticity that’s neither showy nor dogmatic. He revisits his favorite themes, from marriage and the pull of family to the ecological fate of the Earth, without fussing over them. “Le Noise” is not an epic -– if it were a book, you could read it in an afternoon -– but it’s statement enough from a man who’s already said so much.

From a rather poorly researched article that calls Neil a former heroin user and gets birthday wrong in Wall Street Journal | Neil Young, Le Noise, With Producer Daniel Lanois by Jim Fusilli: (Thanks Stringman!)
Mr. Lanois called Mr. Young's electric guitar playing an 'extreme excursion from one tone to another, from wet to bone-dry.'

'Bob Dylan likes how I play my guitar,' Mr. Young said. 'But he always says to me, 'How do you do that? How do you sing and makes those sounds?'

'I like the sound of an electric guitar when it feeds back. I like to use all those gizmos and combinations.'

'Your secret is turning up loud and playing light,' Mr. Lanois said from across the table.

'That's right,' Mr. Young replied. 'That makes it smaller and harsh. It really resonates.' On 'Le Noise,' he added, 'You feel the guitar. You hear the words, but you feel the guitar. The guitar is volcanic.'

Asked if 'Le Noise' had a lyrical theme, Mr. Young said no. But for the new album, he continues to consider the themes of mortality and aging, subjects he's been writing about recently with increasing frequency—natural enough for a man his age. Love and appreciation for family and friends is another reccurring motif. But Mr. Young said he never knows what his songs will be about until he's in the process of writing them.

Seeing Mr. Young up close in a new setting creates a new context for our relationship with his music. It may do so for some of his notable peers as well.

'What do you think Bob's going to think of this album?' Mr. Young asked Mr. Lanois, referring to Mr. Dylan, for whom he produced two albums.

'He's going to love it,' Mr. Lanois replied with a wide grin.

Satisfied, Mr. Young nodded. 'Yeah. He'll love it.'


Le Noise by Neil Young
(Click to Zoom Cover)
Release Date: September 28, 2010

More on Neil Young's New Album 'Le Noise'. Also, see:

- NEW LE NOISE VIDEO: Neil Young's "Love And War" on YouTube
-Le Noise: "It's a keeper" Tweets Critic Greg Kot
-Stream Neil Young's Entire Album Le Noise on NPR
-Neil Young and Daniel Lanois click on 'Le Noise' -
-NEW LE NOISE VIDEO: "Hitchhiker"
-Comment of the Moment: Le Noise's "Sonics"
-Neil Young Interview on Le Noise: "It sounded like God"
- Producer Daniel Lanois Discusses Making of "Walk With Me" + UNCUT Review (UPDATED)
- Video of Neil Young's "Angry World" from Le Noise
- Neil Young's Le Noise: "Just a man on a stool"
- "Imagination never sleeps": Neil Young's Le Noise
- NPR Previews Neil Young's Le Noise's "Walk With Me"
- Dead Man Soundtrack: Preview of Le Noise?
- Anticipating Neil Young's album Le Noise

Also, see all of Neil Young's Solo Electric Concert Tour Dates and Reviews.

And, FWIW, pre-orders for Le Noise by Neil Young are already ranked at #8 #5 on Bestseller listing.


At 9/24/2010 07:15:00 AM, Blogger asg said...

"doughtiest"(?)--bravest and most determined...

At 9/24/2010 09:08:00 AM, Blogger Harm said...

Just went to the store to get the CD/DVD deluxe package, turns out there is no such thing! Just the CD version. Pity, cause my cd player sounds a hell of a lot better than the speakers on my PC and the NPR preview... will have to wait 'till the CD/DVD version shows up or until the Blu-Ray comes out.

At 9/24/2010 10:57:00 AM, Blogger Sandy Horne said...

Harm, I think I rememer hearing that the cd/dvd version will be coming out around christmas time.

At 9/24/2010 02:21:00 PM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

All of my experience reading endless reviews of Neil Young's work over the past number of years points to a glaring inconsistency here. And that is:

Critics should be hating this.

So, why, I ask, are they loving it? Sure, there's a bad review here and there, but they way they treated Greendale and FITR, and the way they treated LWW and the rest ( basically split), you would NOT expect the critics to be so enamored.

Critics are supposed to think in relatively shallow, uncreative terms with regard to music, in my experience.

Personally, I am going to write a GLOWING review of this album that's like 6 pages long and goes into intense depth.

But that's me. I'm a huge, starry-eyed, rose-colored-glasses-wearing FAN through and through.

I FULLY expected this album to get dragged through the mud, hung out to dry, beaten with a stick, vomitted on and otherwise disrespected by critics.

It blows my mind that they love it so much.

Could it be the incredible, life-changingly beautiful, soaringly wondrous and majestic Peaceful Valley Boulevard, which harkens back to Neil at his peak, crying out of the 70's like some long-lost gem pulled out of the dust?

Perhaps it's that. I dunno.

I'm extremely HAPPY that it's getting good reviews, don't get me wrong - let's hope sales are equally good.

But I am darn confused about it. I mean, this is art along the lines of TTN, something that should be hated by your average stick-in-the-mud critic.

But I suppose you never really know.

At 9/24/2010 02:37:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

after listening to this a bunch of times i think it's pretty underwhelming. the songs just aren't that good, and all the digi noise that lanois layers on, while interesting, are ultimately a distraction. it speaks volumes that the best song, "hitchhiker", is decades old. of course it's neil, so it's still better than most of what's out there, but i hold him to a very high standard. i think he can do better. still waiting for that late career masterpiece....though greendale was pretty awesome.

cue thrasher calling me a four percenter in three, two, one...

At 9/24/2010 03:08:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Matt - yeah, that was where i was coming from when posting these. It does seem that somewhere in r&r central control, someone agrees on what the story line is on an album and then the critics kinda fall in line. There really aren't that many truly independent critics out there. Kot's pretty good. So Fucilla but can't figure why his review has so many errors.

Anyways, fascinating reaction.

This may turn out to be one of the rare times when the critics rave & fans go thumbs down. It's so weird being a NY fan.

@ Kevin - nice try on the baiting. You'll have to try a little harder to earn the tag.

At 9/24/2010 08:19:00 PM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

@ Thrash - you're probably right. The critics are likely toeing a line that's handed to them from above. Maybe someone really high up is trying to sell this album to the public.

I wonder what Rob Harvilla of the Voice has to say (that hateful bastard).

lol @ Kevin. You're not hating, just being critical. There's a difference, I'd say.

While I disagree on your thoughts concerning the songwriting (Peaceful Valley Boulevard could go down as one of his best ever, IMO), at least your thoughts come with some reasoning to back them up.

I dig the weirdly constructed half-songs that seem to taper off (kind of reminds me of Pavement in a way), and I think his lyrics are poignant and ... elude to much more than they say - quite deliberately.

A good portion of this, I think is really all one song when you put it all together, and the acoustic tracks provide some relief from the anguish and metallic psychedelia of the electric tracks.

Personally, I'm thinking either of two scenarios could happen - this could go the way of Trans, in that the fans just don't know what to do with it, or it will go platinum on the strength and accessibility of the two acoustic numbers.

At 9/25/2010 11:17:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

oh thanks guys, i wasn't trying to bait. still a little gun shy from the non-registered days, i guess! that 4 percenter tag used to get thrown around a lot around here.

i seriously doubt this has a chance at going platinum. i'd say if he sold 300,000 it would be surprising. yeah i'll buy it (when the bluray comes out) but i still think it's half assed. i like pvb too, but then he goes and throws a cheesy line about polar bears and iceflows and just sort of ruins it for me. i LOVE hitchhiker, but it really annoys me that neil doesn't care enough about the song to get it right on tape. lyrical flubs, missed chord changes, sure it's got power but it could be so much more.

and i guess that is what is ultimately the most frustrating to me. sure, as neil fans and concert goers we know how awesome neil is. we've all seen it in person, heard the live tapes. we GET IT. but most fans only hear the released records. so they are stuck with the version of hitchhiker on "le noise", where he replaces the word "did" with "dud".

on the other hand, i love it when he sings "i long to HEAR that lonesome hippie smile" on "roll another number"!

At 9/25/2010 09:24:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

a stopped clock is right twice a day


At 9/26/2010 01:58:00 PM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

@ Kevin - was just listening to PVB, and thought of your comment, so I figured I'd share my thoughts on the lyrics:

‎"A polar bear was drifting on an ice floe,
Sun beating down from the sky,
Politicians gathered for a summit,
And came away with nothing to decide,
Storms thundered on, his tears of falling rain,
A child was born and wondered why."

Maybe it's just me... (it probably is)... but these lyrics make my spine twitch. In fact, the entire song gives me goosebumps, but when he hits this last verse, it's like something's been building up steam, ready to explode, and in these last 3 fragmented images he summarizes the meaning of the song - that ever since those first wagons crossed the peaceful valley (or didn't make it across, apparently), it's been building up to the polar bear stranded on the floating half-melted ice floe, the politicians not being able to get anything done, and in one final cry of anguish, the Universe expresses itself through Neil as a child just being born - the most pure thing possible, and in that simple mental clarity of a child, the question "why?" arises.

Ask an adult "why" and they'll go on and on about their politics and society and the state of things, but a child doesn't care about those unimportant, illusionary concepts, he/she just wonders why everything had to be this way, when it could have very simply been a beautiful world where everyone lives in peace.

So I think the polar bear on the ice flow with the sun beating down while the politicians do nothing and a child is born wondering why everything is so screwed up...

is a great set of images that really encapsulates and summarizes the overall point of the song.

My favorite part is when the 'electro cruiser' pulls off the exit onto Peaceful Valley Boulevard, under the billboard that says, "People make the difference,"

The billboard is a great metaphor, a spine-tingler, really.

It's a meaningless corporate statement, that if taken without the context of the bullshit it's trying to sell rings absolutely true.

People do make the difference, but the madness of industry and corporatism have hijacked all of the meaning in the world and made it meaningless.


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