Friday, October 1, 2010
[pitchfork.com] Even by his own unpredictable standards, Neil Young's had a pretty contradictory decade. The confusingly titled Chrome Dreams II was one highlight, but some of its best tracks were decades-old. Last year's Fork in the Road was a lark, a neo-concept album about electric cars whose humor undersold Young's convictions. His angriest albums, Living With War and Greendale, were each instantly dated time capsules. His prettiest, Silver & Gold and Prairie Wind, were also pretty disposable, and there are likely about as many people who pull out Are You Passionate? as there are those waiting for a Road Rock Vol. 2.
Yet all those subpar, uneven, or just plain odd releases matter, because they show the guy's still trying to bottle whatever it is that's been swimming in his soul for the better part of five full decades. Which brings us to Le Noise, Young's perhaps inevitable team-up with famed producer Daniel Lanois. The album features mostly just Young, electric guitar, and a battery of effects-- echoing, resonating, occasionally roaring, and raging. Not that Young necessarily needs all that. With his sneering warble and ragged but right guitar playing, he's always been his own best effect, but here Young and Lanois relish the happy accidents both producer and artist have always embraced, resisting the urge to sand off the jagged edges into the ambient ether.
Of course, ambience is a big part of Le Noise's widescreen appeal, and Young's playing is as intriguingly exploratory as it is sometimes explosive, taking advantage of Lanois' trademark bag of tricks like a kid testing pedals in a guitar store. Still, given its familiar crunch and gait, it's hard to hear Le Noise without imagining the famously ramshackle backing of Crazy Horse anchoring the riffy murk of songs like "Walk With Me", "Sign of Love", "Angry World" or even the queasy, off-kilter "Rumblin'".
Admittedly, the lyrical nod in the long unreleased drug epic "Hitchhiker" (which has been floating around in some form for years) to Trans' "Like an Inca" implies Young understands he's working in curveball mode. Regardless, there's never any denying the guy on the mound-- Le Noise is as closely linked to Young's primal instincts as anything in his catalog. Like many of Young's most formidable works, the specter of death hangs over the record, too, specifically his recently passed collaborators Larry "L.A." Johnson and especially long-serving guitarist Ben Keith.
Considering the demons creeping deep through the disc, it's perhaps no surprise that the sole pair of acoustic tracks, "Love and War" and "Peaceful Valley Boulevard", are as heavy as the louder tracks, their relative clarity almost disconcertingly intimate compared to the surrounding racket. In fact, for all its hushed restraint, the eerie "Peaceful Valley Boulevard" is a real highlight, a paean to a doomed America that plays like a tragic lyrical descendent of "Pocahontas" and "Cortez the Killer". Young may be famous for his maelstrom guitar, but in this case the apocalypse sneaks up on us with a whisper, Young's voice steeped in decades of watching the world go to hell. "When will I learn how to heal?" he later implores in "Rumblin'", knowing full well that the damage has already been done.
— Joshua Klein, October 1, 2010
Posted by Dan Goldin at 2:18 AM