Recorded live in a big room, mistakes and all, Le Noise gets its title from producer and fellow native Canadian Daniel Lanois—a man whose production style is a matter of taste for people, so that much of the album’s success or lack thereof is dictated by their opinion of him.
This is about as “solo” as a Neil album can be, for it consists only of his voice and guitar, subsequently run through a variety of effects. There are no drums or bass; any rhythm comes solely from his Gretsch or whatever loops have been dictated in the mixing process.
“Walk With Me” sets the tone, musically and lyrically, his slashing modal D chords providing the base for a plea or a dare. “Sign Of Love” comes from the same mold, something of a musical sequel to “Cinnamon Girl”, with an equally mysterious object of affection. The mood slows a bit for “Someone’s Gonna Rescue You” without being redundant, but a true departure comes in “Love And War”, a pretty straightforward statement of purpose as he’s ever done, performed on an acoustic.
One of the more challenging tracks is “Angry World”, starting with its sampled vocal snippet that brings to mind “One Of Our Submarines” by Thomas Dolby. The performance is incredibly rough, and a little dissonant—even for Neil—but it soon wins over. “Hitchhiker” provides another piece of autobiography, a daring litany of his past drug use, set to a melody previously used in “Like An Inca” on Trans. An acknowledgement of his family and lost friends underscores how many of his peers and collaborators he’s survived. The acoustic returns for “Peaceful Valley Boulevard”, the track most typical of the Lanois sound, with a mysterious mythology to match. A cross between ecological concerns and personal improvement is the theme behind the oddly effective “Rumblin’”.
Like many Lanois projects, the album seems to be best suited for listening on cold, dark nights, or maybe accompanied by the full moon under which Neil tends to record. (The sessions were also filmed, giving an intimate glimpse into the creation of each track. Unfortunately, the occasional glimpse of Neil at a piano or his pump organ only has us wondering how many outtakes are in his growing vault.) Le Noise is not the easiest listen, but like most of his darker material, it is ultimately rewarding, and we can be happy that this old man is still in touch with his personal muse.
Neil Young Le Noise (2010)—4