This summer, when I saw Neil Young on his Twisted Road solo tour, and he played eight new songs--six of which would make it onto his latest offering, I didn't realize that the ones he played on his electric guitar would ultimately prove the most compelling. I've always had a preference for the acoustic side of Neil Young, so when he interspersed these new unaccompanied electric guitar-based songs through his show, they seemed an interesting expression--but nothing I thought would have any real lasting impact.
Young's new album, Le Noise, recorded and produced by oft-U2 collaborator, Daniel Lanois, at his home in the Silverlake section of Los Angeles, was done without the use of any accompaniment or band, and definitely makes an impact--and may very well come to be seen as one of the great achievements of his later career. Le Noise, starts off with Walk With Me--one of the album's strongest songs. Walk With Me, lyrically reads as a love song, but comes off as a powerful anthem--and could prove to be a new signature song for Young--he has already used in as an encore on his latest tour. The next two songs on side one--Sign of Love, and Someone's Going to Rescue You, continue along the same lines--with Lanois' use of delays, echo, and other effects bringing about a swirling, powerful sound that boasts big bass notes in addition to the ringing upper octaves.
The seeds of a developing mythology surrounding the recording of the album have already been planted and are likely to continue to grow--from reports that the recording was all completed during a full moon at Young's request, to the lack of any overdubs, to Lanois' development of a special stereo guitar, to the multitude of effects used--and so on and so on . . . The first side ends with an acoustic song, Love and War, which I suspect favors the vinyl LP format--as it breaks up the momentum created by the first three electric numbers and flows better followed by the break necessary in changing album sides--rather than by directly leading into another electric song. Like the first, side two contains three electric and one acoustic song--and fans will argue over which songs they like best--but, The Hitchhiker, a haunting autobiographical narrative of drug use and self-destruction, is destined to become a classic.
|(Le Noise, gatefold photo)|
The Vinyl Packaging and Sound
Chris Bellman, of Bernie Grundman Mastering, likely had no difficulty fitting this roughly thirty-five minute offering onto one disc. *The 180 gram vinyl pressed at the Pallas facility and housed in a gatefold cover of regular weight cardstock, arrived flat, clean, and played quietly. Bellman has already done an outstanding job mastering Young's recent reissues on both vinyl and cd--and has done an excellent job on this release as well.
While not an audiophile recording in the traditional sense, this record has many of the attributes that audiophiles crave--Young's voice, which occupies the center space in between the speakers most of the time, sounds present and clear. The bass, while not highly defined, rumbles the room and provides a solid bottom to go with the swirling tones generated via Young's guitar after running through the effects, delays, and tweed amplifiers he typically favors. And most of all, this record allows you to re-live the concert experience--turn it up, close your eyes, and you're back in the 2,000 seat theater where Neil was playing just two months ago.
*While this review is of the 180 gram vinyl and I heartily recommend it, the cd which I have yet to hear is likely a very good alternative for those looking for a lower-priced alternative, as Bellman mastered it using the same 44.1 kHz/24 bit file used for the vinyl.