Review: Neil Young's "Le Noise"
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Release Date: September 28, 2010
It's been about six months since we first heard Neil Young's latest batch of new songs -- what would eventually become known as "the Le Noise tracks" -- performed live in Hanover, MA, Washington, DC and Milwaukee, WI.
What we saw and heard over those 3 concerts was truly transformative and transcendental. Others had similar reactions while many were struck with the bleak starkness of some of the 7 new songs being debuted.
Fast forward to this week's release of Le Noise and listeners are just now hearing the "sonics" which Producer Daniel Lanois has introduced in the post-production process. So naturally, for those of us lucky to have experienced the raw and stripped down Le Noise tracks performed live, it is quite an exhilarating experience to re-discover so quickly the song's treatments with Lanois' studio touches.
Much, much, much has been made of this collaboration between Young and Producer Lanois. While it seems clear that the partnership works on many levels -- as evidenced not only by the results which speak for itself -- one can not help but plainly sense the apparent comfort and palpable mutual respect on display in their numerous joint interviews.
So has Neil Young found his new David Briggs? Or is Lanois now Young's Rick Rubin with the magic touch? We shall see, but we're thinking more the latter than the former.
The other fascinating aspect of Le Noise is the reaction of critics who suddenly now are waxing rhapsodic in their reviews over the latest Neil Young release.
Reading some of the latest reviews, we find ourselves shaking our heads at critics (and even some "fair weather fans" too) for re-discovering Neil Young's unique charms and peculiar fondness for turning expectations on their heads. As if, lo and behold, Young has somehow re-emerged from the shadows of creativity and returned once again to form.
As if there had ever been a "form" before. (See chronology of Young's career ending moves for details.)
Our observation at this point on Le Noise is that it usually seems to take quite some time before a Neil Young album's significance emerges. Witness the recent re-appraisals of Greendale, Living With War and the much maligned Fork in the Road in the Young canon.
So we spin the black circle....
And other Neil fans?
From Isorski's Musings: CD Review - Neil Young - Le Noise:
Le Noise is a special Neil release unlike anything he has ever given us.
And as a guitar player who also loves raw tones, gritty production and 'real' playing, there is a lot to love. From the insane overdriven electric of Walk With Me to the gorgeous acoustic tone of Peaceful Valley Boulevard, Neil hits this one so far out of the park, the ball is the next county.
Photo by Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
From Steve Hoffman Music Forum by Chief:
I'm listening to the full album for the first time right now.
I'd be surprised if Le Noise wasn't listed in many critics' year-end best of lists. It's that kind of album. It takes risks and sounds ugly (depending on one's perspective). I think this was the right album for Neil to make. He could have done something familiar, but he chose not to, and that's why he's still relevant.
That said, it's a challenging album simply because the sounds aren't friendly or inviting (like Harvest Moon or Ragged Glory for instance). The lack of traditional instrumentation will prevent it from gaining wide acceptance. Neil has put out other challenging albums of course. Some have ultimately rewarded over time, others haven't so much. I won't even dare to speculate where Le Noise will fall. I think Fork In The Road is challenging as well, and I also think it's really good.
Le Noise, however, is something entirely different.
From a comment on this blog by Dan:
Beyond the sonics which add richness and verve, the songs are excellent ... somehow I keep coming back to love and war which for me feels like an enduring classic ... originally I thought he'd put out a dark album to mourn the losses of LA and Ben, ... I've come around to thinking he's left that sadness off the album and instead, both on the album and in the interviews, is expressing, among other things, themes of resiliency and continuity, and within that he seems as vibrant, relevant, and fresh as he ever has. He also seems relaxed, at peace, and comfortable with himself and his scene.
And how about those critics???
From Music Vice | Album review: Neil Young – Le Noise – "The anti-pop star creates his ultimate anti-pop record" by Brian Banks:
These days fewer and fewer artists seem to actually have something to say, and of those that do, not many are saying something worth hearing. Pop has never been so pop. But what do we do than when we, the all-consuming music-buying public, want to hear something tangible? Something personal.
Something that makes a statement – and no, not a fashion statement…we have plenty enough of that already. Something real. It’s a mission to find a contemporary artist whose music really has a voice and that thing called soul – there are some of course, but most of them are hiding away in obscurity and poverty, far removed from the sales charts. Leave it to the epitomist Neil Young to come along with a new album that delivers something that is both very real and very much worth listening to.
The anti-pop star has created his ultimate anti-pop record.
But wait. Who's ever heard of Music Vice and what does a blog's opinion matter anyway?
How about the elite professional music critics (as compiled by Metacritic)?
From Chicago Tribune:
The album is full of those kind of unexpected juxtapositions, a stunning statement from an artist who shows no signs of slowing down.
Los Angeles Times:
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.
Le Noise is also the most intimate and natural-sounding album Young has made in a long time: just a songwriter making his way through a vividly rendered chaos of memoir, affection and fear.
It builds a rich sonic arch around Young's voice and guitar, bottling the essence of what makes him such a compelling singer-songwriter at 64.
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.
(See Le Noise Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic for all links above. Also, see neilyoung.org - Neil Young links for more capsule reviews).
From Rolling Stone Music | Music Reviews by David Fricke:
But the most personal thing about Le Noise is the sense of a restless master caught in the pursuit of ideas, shaping their expression. 'Peaceful Valley Boulevard,' one of two acoustic-guitar songs, is a detailed American history lesson from Indian wars to electric cars. Yet in one line ('A mother screamed, and every soul was lost'), Young's voice cracks on the peak note — an impulsive, moving flaw.
And in 'Love and War,' Young — his creaky whisper and acoustic guitar buoyed by Lanois' watery treatments — confesses an uncertainty hard to believe in one of rock's most driven stars: 'When I sing about love and war/I don't really know what I'm saying.' But then the conviction comes back. He only has that one way forward, through the music: 'I sang in anger, hit another bad chord/But I still try to sing about love and war.' Le Noise is, ultimately, an extreme simplicity: the sound of a man who won't give up.
From BBC - Music - Review of Neil Young - Le Noise by Wyndham Wallace:
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.
And the bloggers?
From Consequence of Sound by By Evan Minsker:
In a way, Le Noise should feel like a cheap attempt to reach out to young people.
The album was promoted on Facebook, Young debuted videos on Pitchfork and Stereogum, and the record is being released as an iPad and iPhone app. It sounds like a cheap marketing ploy. Apps? Social media? Hip music sites? He’s a Twitter account away from covering all the buzzword bases. But, in reality, this is one of Young’s best albums in years, so the Internet-wide promotion is well worth the effort. With just a guitar and some fine studio work by Lanois, the soundscape here is huge and mystifying.
Not since he first recorded “Cortez the Killer” has a Young album been so full of mystique.
From PopMatters by David Gassmann :
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.
Photo by Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times
And of course not all are impressed by Young's latest.
From The A.V. Club by Steven Hyden:
Neil Young’s bulletproof status as the other ’60s rock icon you can still depend on—take a bow, Bob Dylan—has become increasingly reliant on albums boasting catchier concepts than songwriting. It’s easy to praise Young for getting fired up about the environment (Greendale), the war in Iraq (Living With War), and electric cars (Fork In The Road), but when it comes to songs, he’s been penning iffy lyrics and recycling the same by-the-numbers guitar-rumble for years. Young’s cultural engagement makes him impervious to charges of coasting, but with Le Noise, he’s once again made an album that sounds better on paper than through speakers.
But to wrap things up quietly on Le Noise (incidentally the albums name is a pun on the producer's last name which we'd be re-miss to point out since every review does as well), from Culture Belly by Chris DeLine:
Young, yourself, all of us: who knows how long any of us are meant for this world?
In all honesty, we’re all just a fluke aneurysm away from calling it a day. I can’t speak for the man, but I imagine that Neil Young doesn’t want to die—I know that I most certainly don’t want to die—and it’s my hope that you don’t want to die. And if there’s one thing that I know I can rely on while I’m still on this side of the grave it’s the perspective I gained in part from “Ordinary People”. This is why I think the song is important when thinking about Le Noise: Even if you’re riding a series of thoughts and emotions that touch on the darkest parts of the human experience, you have to do your damnedest to keep that positive outlook and sense of humanity in mind, and remind yourself of what exactly it is you’re still thankful for.
Like Young, if you have children and a wife, I hope you’re thankful for them. If you have a husband, I hope you’re thankful for him. If you have parents or friends or siblings or an annoying little bijon shih tzu that refuses to stop barking at all hours of the morning: I hope you’re thankful for each and every one of ‘em. That’s what I’m taking away from Le Noise.
More on Neil Young's New Album 'Le Noise'. Also, see:
- Critics Go GaGa Over New Neil Young Album Le Noise
- Comment of the Moment: Le Noise
- "Walk With Me": New Video by Neil Young
- Neil Young's Le Noise "Weaving sonic tapestries"
- CBC Interview With Neil Young and Daniel Lanois
- Vinyl Review of Le Noise: TONEAudio MAGAZINE
- NEW LE NOISE VIDEO: Neil Young's "Love And War" on YouTube
-Le Noise: "It's a keeper" Tweets Critic Greg Kot
-Neil Young and Daniel Lanois click on 'Le Noise' - latimes.com
-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
-Stream Neil Young's Entire Album Le Noise on NPR
Also, see all of Neil Young's Solo Electric Concert Tour Dates and Reviews.
And, FWIW, Le Noise by Neil Young is ranked at