The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Neil Young
Le Noise Mick Middles , October 8th, 2010 01:43

It is impossible to approach Le Noise, without encountering a serious flashback: the stark black’n’white sleeve. The harsh enveloping noise… like a flapping vulture in slow motion, guitar buzz and chop… distant airy vocals. My particular flashback seems obvious. 1973 and a front room in Stockport. Five assembled friends, well versed in the Neil Young of Harvest and After the Gold Rush. My stereogram blasting out the wayward discord of 'Tonight’s the Night'. Looks of disbelief. It was a punk moment in pre punk days, and one to be savoured. In time it would become one of my all time favoured Neil Young albums. I can’t say the same for my long lost friends.

So now we have it. The shock of the old. A new Neil Young album that sounds, as producer Daniel Lanois justifiably states, “Like nothing else out there like it.” How true that is. It might sit in a micro-genre alongside a Jesus and Mary Chain demo compilation, but little else comes readily to mind.

However, we are talking Neil Young here; a man whose prodigious career can itself be divided into the multitude of sub-genres that sit between the extremes of, say, the eternally fresh Harvest Moon and an antithesis album such as Le Noise. In truth, this is an implosion of styles all performed on a grinding jagged guitar that warps and stops and beeps and crackles… a noise indeed, expertly teased along by Lanois' tender production… a technique that carries you close to the heart of the noise... closer, at times than the voice of Young which often seems to be an outsider howl from the edge. You will not hear anything else. No bass, drums or keyboards are allowed near this heart, providing a constantly exciting sense that you have captured a world class artist at the start of a recording session, rather than the polished conclusion.

There are certain drawbacks to this. As the album literally grinds to a halt, one is left wondering just how it might have sounded had Young and Lanois taken the entire affair, from the bare bones, to a full-blown album conclusion. Well, we will never know (unless they return to it, one day). However, that is not to say that this isn’t a most worthwhile experiment. It is and, in many places it produces elements of raw, untamed beauty that could never reached by a full band. That’s the price you pay for the treat of hearing songs fighting to emerge from the most basic form… a couple of chords thrashed into the ground before a prettiness typical of Young is allowed to emerge. This is the key to Le Noise. The sense that you can’t keep a good melody at bay, no matter how hard you hammer it into the ground. Neil Young could build striking tune from a rusting combine harvester and, in places, Le Noise does resemble such a beast.

At the start of this mayhem sits 'Walk With Me'. It could be Young’s way of ushering you into the heart of a noise which flutters eerily… please do play this at full volume. It will immediately warp your reality, leaving you with that gloriously distance feeling that you are living your own film, accompanied by the most bizarre soundtrack imaginable. 'Walk With Me' guides you IN THERE, surging straight to a central place where the artists can playfully tug you in several directions. 'Sign of Love' delivers yet more beauteous guitar crunching, at times faltering with intent. As such, it feels almost weird to encounter an enchanting – though hardly winsome – acoustic affair such as 'Love and War'. This, again in one of Young’s traditions, defines simplicity, the twin themes centring on the all too contemporary image of a young man going to war. Indeed, the simplicity is almost shocking, as if Young has decided to strip away any hint of flippant pretension. It is what it is…a gorgeous meandering tune which slowly twists and twists towards an inevitable conclusion,.

The element of simple experimentation is most gloriously celebrated in 'Angry World' which, according to Lanois, was produced in response to a drunken request in a local bar. 'Hitchhiking', though, has no such immediacy. Indeed, Young aficionados may like to trace this back to live solo outing at the at the start of the 90s. In truth, there are familiar strains across this album, as if a compilation of mis-fits and wayward strayings, Well, that’s quite possible the case. This ferociously creative mind spins ideas and notions and songs every which way… splattering into some studio, somewhere. How clever, therefore, to use the rawest possible sound to provided a sense of unity. Long before you reach the second acoustic outing, the beautifully titled 'Peaceful Valley Boulevard', you are realising the irony that this is, in fact, one of the most consistent Neil Young albums of a patchy decade. A Neil Young decade not without its brilliant corners, of curse, but also its fair share of disappointments.

But no such disappointment here. On the contrary, this is a fresh, raw, treat… at once, beautifully accessible (after two listens), addictive and occasionally disorientating. One expects a sudden change of direction. For this is the sound of an angry man. Beating against time and age. Relevant? Never more so.