By James Calemine
“You can either be true to your art, or be a good public relations man,” Neil Young said years ago. Le Noise finds Ol’ Shakey continuing to pursue his ruthless vision. Produced and recorded by fellow Canadian Daniel Lanois in his home studio—with a recording resume that includes Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Chris Whitley, the Neville Brothers and U2—Le Noise shines like a black diamond.
Lanois’ trademark high-ceiling, echoing production serves these ‘modern world’ Young songs well. The sonic landscape creates a moody, space-blues darkness. Lanois captures a spooky aura surrounding Young’s guitar-playing and autobiographical lyrics. No other musicians accompany Young on these emotive sessions. Lanois said Le Noise was just “a man on a stool and me doing a nice job recording…”
Lanois spent years building a new electro-acoustic guitar he gave Young for the Le Noise sessions. Most of these eight songs are new, and Young (as usual) only recorded on evenings during a full moon. Le Noise opens with Young’s vintage guitar sound on “Walk With Me”, which will surely transfer well to a live audience, especially when Young decides to use a band. The opening song morphs into the next, “Sign of Love”, emitting an austere valley of sound. This is not an album of hits, but a streamlined mood where each song fits into one cohesive sequence. These songs cut to the bone–just the songwriter and his instrument.
“Someone’s Gonna Rescue You” contains a side-winding, guitar riff that gives a memorable bite. Perhaps only Young’s soundtrack for the Jim Jarmusch film Dead Man comes close to Le Noise’s desolate, yet vast sound. “Love And War” an acoustic tune, stands out as one of Young’s strongest lyrical messages—not in a “Let’s Impeach the President” manner, but a sad personal way that proves timeless:
“When I sing about love and war
I don’t really know what I’m saying
I’ve been in love and I’ve seen a lot of war
Seen a lot of people praying
They pray to Allah and they pray to the Lord
But mostly they pray about love and war
Pray about love and war
I’ve seen a lot of young men go to war
And leave a lot of young brides waiting
I’ve watched them try to explain it to their kids
And seen a lot of them failing
They tried to tell them and they tried to explain
Why daddy won’t ever come home again.
Daddy won’t ever come home again.”
“Angry World” conjures post-apocalyptic images—wasteland cities, polluted water, political madness, economic desperation and smoke–filled skies in violent new age told by a street preacher with a Les Paul guitar. “Hitchhiker”, the album’s oldest song, fits in well here, and these musical cinematic images evoke a drug-addled drifter, the Incas, and family memories that turn out to be the narrator’s own inimitable story.
Lyrics in “Peaceful Valley Boulevard”, the other acoustic centerpiece song, paint Old West allegories that seem to fit the year 2010: “Change hit the country like a thunderstorm/Ancient rivers soon began to boil/People rushed like water to California/ At first they came for gold and then for oil/Fortunes were made and lost in lifetimes/Mother earth took poison in her soil.”
“Rumblin’” closes Le Noise with desperate, yet redemptive lyrics propelled by a menacing guitar riff that leads us all into a strange futuristic abyss…the great unknown. Hear the dark grace of Le Noise…
Neil Young’s Special Deluxe review appears in Insured Beyond The Grave Vol. 2.
Neil Young’s Greendale
Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub