Over the years, Neil Young has changed styles like some artists change clothes, but he always returns closely to one of two poles: the folksy acoustic Neil and the Godfather Of Grunge. Few artists could ever coax so many emotions, so much color, and so much visceral impact out of an acoustic guitar. On the other side of the coin is the electrified howl of the venerable '53 Les Paul he calls “Old Black.” In a storm of sludgy riffs and screaming feedback, he gave birth to a singularly unique voice in the world of music. It is this voice that dominates Neil’s latest album, aptly titled Le Noise.
Producer extraordinaire Daniel Lanois (U2's go-to guy) masterfully captures Young solo in his wonderful rawness. The album opener “Walk With Me” opens with a familiar crushing riff full of power and sustain. Lanois said in an interview “The opening riff was actually well into the recording. I didn’t start the tape until he was warmed up and going full out.” Beneath the sludgy riffs is a tender plea for love and acceptance, a theme that resonates throughout the album. Love, specifically durable, lasting love, is a common theme. Young's expressions of love aren't odious sap of pop, they are well worn, finely seasoned musing of a relationship spanning decades. Most telling is the simple line from “Sign Of Love:”
When we both have silver hair, and a little less time
But there are still roses on the vine.
You can take it as a sign of love when I look at you for a long, long time.”
Young has called Le Noise his “TMI” album, and it surely lays bare some of his wounds and private struggles with drugs, health, marriage and his personal journey as an artist. Truly it's far more autobiographical than any of his past work. The most telling and confessional piece is the gritty “The Hitchhiker,” his “drug chronicle” as he described it. "The Hitchhiker" is a song Neil has had around since the seventies but never finished. “It wasn't ready,” he says, “the story was still playing out.” You can feel that in the biographical lyrics and confessional tone: “I tried to leave my past behind, but it's catching up with me / I don't know how I'm still standing here, living in my life.”
The two acoustic tracks “Love And War” and “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” both provide a more pastoral sonic experience, but they mask somber tales of loss and decay.
This is, not surprisingly, another amazing album from Neil. After more than 40 years at the forefront of the music world, he hasn't lost a step. He brings his potent lyrical vision and powerful guitar work to play in this album, and his new work proves to be as vital compelling as anything he's ever produced. As a musician he only gets better with time. As an album this is one of his best. Play it often, play it loud.