There is a reason that Neil Young decided to call his 7 millionth album Le Noise. It’s due to the presence of producer extraordinaire Daniel Lanois (Dylan/U2) who has warped and distended his sounds, adding a complexity and a kind of inebriated psychedelic slur over everything. Not just echoes on the vocals, or walls of reverb, but a grander more signature stamp on the album. Where most bands pull back on the effects to try to portray the illusion of reality Neil and Daniel elected to make it all overt. It’s not that it’s too much, rather it’s just very obvious, almost another instrument woven within the songs.
It’s an incredibly stark and stripped down album, dark like Tonight’s the Night, perhaps like that 1975 offering prompted by the death of someone close to him, this time bandleader and mercurial pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith. It’s just Neil and his guitar, either acoustic or electric, yet the production fills any void, moving, pulsing, warping along with a kind of controlled weirdness. Neil has returned to that meaty fuzzy, ok, grunge guitar sound of Sleeps With Angels era and Lanois treatment of his guitar is nothing short of extraordinary, both in terms of texture and timbre, but also in terms of the way it’s stretched across the stereo field, Song wise Lanois rescues some of Young’s potentially lame moments such as Angry World with a guitar sound you can almost taste in your mouth and a disconcerting vocal loop. The effects duck, weave explode and disappear around Young’s songs as he continues almost oblivious. He doesn’t interact, they both just do their own thing.
There’s a kind of reflective poring over his life, but you suppose death of a close friend can do that to you. On the Hitchhiker, he details his drug history whilst on Love and War he notes that they’re very familiar subjects for him. You get the feeling that La Noise is about asking questions into the void. “When will I learn to Give Back? When Will I learn to heal?” He asks on Rumblin.
Neil Young albums can be hit and miss. Yet every now and then something in his brain seems to snap and he takes a real risk, changing things up. Both Trans, and Dead Man spring to mind, maybe even Sleeps With Angels. Le Noise belongs here as well. This is a great album.
Bob Baker Fish