Album review: Neil Young's 'Le Noise'
Neil Young is an experimental artist working in a pop mode; he wants his music to be relevant, but he doesn’t care about either proving himself great or staying hip, the usual stumbling blocks for aging baby boomer rock stars. Young just wants to hear how something (a choir, an R&B band, a concept like the history of automobiles) sounds when it collides with his fundamental warped-folk sound. A strong sense of entitlement, the bane of many in his generation, is his ace in the hole. Not caring what anybody thinks keeps him attuned to himself.
He does make room for collaborators, though, and on “Le Noise,” his 34th solo studio album, he engages in a clarifying dialogue. Young recorded the tracks in the Silver Lake home of producer Daniel Lanois, using just his voice and mostly electric guitar; the studio master then remixed and enhanced them. The result lands in the same ballpark as work by much younger artists such as Joseph Arthur or even Best Coast, though the mood is more reflective.
At times, the sound heats up, as on the earnest “Walk With Me” and the Bo Diddley-touched “Rumblin'.” But in general, this is an easy album to enjoy, something not always true of Young’s recent output. The treatments Lanois gives Young’s raw performances don’t distract from their basic emotional tone, and if the lyrics sometime seem simplistic, Young’s worn, gentle vocals lend them an authenticity that’s neither showy nor dogmatic. He revisits his favorite themes, from marriage and the pull of family to the ecological fate of the Earth, without fussing over them. “Le Noise” is not an epic -– if it were a book, you could read it in an afternoon -– but it’s statement enough from a man who’s already said so much.
-- Ann Powers
Three and a half stars