Noise & Flowers by Neil Young + Promise of the REAL -- a new live album that captures the group on their 2019 European tour was released today, August 5th.
Without further ado, comes the Comment of the Moment on LISTEN TO “THROW YOUR HATRED DOWN” from ‘NOISE & FLOWERS’ by the ever so intrepid Scotsman:
It's album release day (exciting!), so here are a few thoughts on Noise and Flowers.
Before we talk about Noise and Flowers, though, I think we need to talk about Life and Death.
(I know: all a bit heavy! But bear with me — we're going somewhere).
Tonight's the Night, of course, is a record about life (and death). Sleeps With Angels is a record about life (and death). Greendale is a record about life (and death).
No coincidence. Because wherever there's life, death is waiting in the wings.
That's true for you and me, for the butterfly on your window ledge, and the lamb in the slaughterhouse (and the men who put her there).
And although death is often distressing, the real problem is one of *denial*. Denial of our own mortality.
We humans get ourselves into trouble when we act as if we are Gods: impervious to death. And we get ourselves into trouble when we're terrified and act aggressively (which traces back to a caveman-style *fear* of death).
But if we can *accept* death, its proximity can bring out the best in us. And it inspires us to live our lives that much more vividly.
And that's what Noise and Flowers is all about.
Elliot Roberts, Neil's friend and manager of 50 years, passed away shortly before the European tour with Promise of the Real (from summer 2019) that this album captures.
By coincidence, one of my dearest friends was dying at the same time. I remember each day of June/July 2019 expanding in scope — seeming deeper, wider, more vivid than ever before.
Noise and Flowers is the sound of that feeling.
It's also the sound of Neil Young getting the very last drop of mileage out of the peak of his vocal range.
Example: Rockin' In The Free World was at the high end of Neil's vocal range when he wrote it. And 30 years later, it's *definitely* at the high end of his vocal range. (The performance here errs between sublime and shambolic, much like All Along The Watchtower on the Road Rock album.)
So there were lots of songs performed on this tour that didn't make the cut. Why? I think because they were "rough gems" that wouldn't have made the merciless transition from live *concert* to all-revealing live *album*.
But many of the performances that *are* here are special ones:
Intense, vulnerable, focused, fragile and powerful — all at the same time.
Prior to 2019, my "scathing" assessment of Promise of the Real was that they "too often filled in the musical gaps that sound best when left unfilled".
But the 2019 tour saw a surprise attack on the "less is more" front. It saw POTR strip away all the extra stuff: less of a collage, and more putting a metaphorical spotlight onto the man at the heart of it all.
Being in the spotlight can be scary!
But the spotlight is also where an artist rises to the occasion. And that's what Neil, Lukas, Micah, Anthony, Corey and Tato do on this record.
The sound mix on Noise and Flowers is an oddity. The overall effect is like an audience bootleg tape on acid. It's a bit "lo-fi" at times. Some of the tracks have a slap-back echo effect that makes the left channel feel slightly out-of-kilter with the right. I'm not sure how I feel about it!
As Neil puts it:
"This music belongs to no one. It's in the air, every note was played for music's great friend, Elliot".
The whole thing aims for that soupy, swampy, swimming-in-reverb sound that will be familiar to anyone who's ever been to an *actual* arena gig.
Veteran readers and writers here know that I adore the authentic live sound. With that disclaimer, the sound of this record is not *always* the most sterling example of its type... it's a bit narrow, at times a touch distant. But part of that may be due to limitations of the original recordings.
(We've also been spoilt recently with Toast, a sonic masterpiece).
Opinion: Noise and Flowers is one of those albums that's best when nonchalantly blasted at full volume, rather than savored on bass-shy audiophile headphones.
And hey, before you knock it (or me) as unsophisticated: TRY IT.
Mr Soul kicks the album off with a sense of no-nonsense, "let's get down to business" swagger. F*!#in' Up concludes it with a high-octane sonic demolition job.
In between, we have... noise and flowers. We have sweetness, lightness, gracefulness, peace, war, up-beat country rockers, mourning, palpable sadness, explosions, and a spine-chilling electric version of On The Beach.
But mostly, we have life and death.
With this swirling, chaotic, intense, fragile, mysterious album being the sound of a magical dimension that exists outside of either one.
Yet again Scotsman, you have given us all much to chew on here. Actually, we have not had a chance to listen just yet. Of course, our memories will be filtered by the tours we caught with Neil + REAL, although not the Europe leg.
We are quite looking forward to seeing the concert video. From Andrew B., comes the BluRay package with the concert locations by song.
Thanks Andrew B., enjoy!