Album Review

Neil Young "Le Noise"

Eamon Murphy
Daniel Lanois’ name may have spawned the titular pun, but Le Noise is about as appropriate and leading a title for an album as Neil Young has given us since 1983’s Everybody’s Rockin’.

Save for the acoustic ‘Love and War’ and ‘Peaceful Valley Boulevard’, the album is feedback heavy. A sensory experience more associated with those offered in tandem with Crazy Horse than anything Young has recorded alone. If you thought Ragged Glory was musically tough and tempestuous, be prepared to be knocked back by Le Noise. And then be even more impressed when you realize the album is devoid of both bass and drum; Young and his guitar, the only protagonists.

It seems that as much credit is due to the producer on this one as to the artist. Said Lanois of the production; “I’m trying to find ways to enter the future with sonics. We’re at the back end of 50 years of rock n’ roll, there’s not an awful lot left that hasn’t been said.”

The aforementioned ‘Love and War’ reminds us that in many ways, Young is still singing about what he always has.

“I sang songs about war
Since the backstreets of Toronto.
I sang for justice and I hit a bad chord
But I still try to sing about love and war”

While on ‘Hitchhiker’, he harks back to the much maligned Trans, lifting lyrics directly from the album, and singing about ancient Latin America as on ‘Cortez the Killer’.

But Lanois has also forced him to look to the present. “I felt that there was something in him that had not come out yet in this stage of his life. Some of the songs that he came in with were good, but I didn’t think they represented that thing that I felt existed in him right now.” Lanois has done well to push him in the right direction.

A case in point is ‘Sign of Love’. It’s an obvious ode to wife Pegi and the relationship they share today, where distorted guitar is juxtaposed with the album’s most tender lyrics.

“When we both have silver hair,
And a little less time,
But there still are roses on the vine,
You can take it as a sign of love,
When I look at you,
When I'm lookin' at you for a long, long time”

The claim has been made that Young’s 1989 release Freedom was the first ever “alternative” record. There have been more bizarre claims in music, certainly. But while I’ve always thought that crediting Neil Young with begetting grunge to be just a little wide of the mark, it’s amusing to find that in 2010, he’s creating music that perhaps more than any of his previous output could have been credited with inspiring the early works of Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

When you get down to it, not only is this album eminently listenable, but also very much worth listening to. It’s a credit to Young’s creativity that this can be said, so far into a career that has yielded enough works of true greatness to excuse some resting on laurels. Yet those laurels remain unburdened.

Perhaps a little bemused by the “Godfather of Grunge” moniker, yet approaching his 65th birthday, Young can still be said to be well and truly justifying it. We’re at the back end of 50 years of rock n’ roll, and maybe there’s not an awful lot left that hasn’t been said. Here’s one old rocker who doesn’t seem ready to stop looking.