BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Neil Young: Le Noise (Warners)

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Neil Young: Walk with Me
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Neil Young: Le Noise (Warners)

A preference declared: I've never been as smitten as many by Neil Young's acoustic albums -- never had a copy of Harvest for example, although I hardly needed it, everybody else played it incessantly.

But I have always cranked up his rowdy albums with Crazy Horse (most of them) and believe albums like Rust Never Sleeps and Arc-Weld are among his best alongside disturbing albums like Tonight's the Night and On the Beach.

So the idea of Young with just guitar -- and entitled Le Noise -- is one I'm going to grab at.

Produced by Daniel Lanois (hence the title) in Young's huge home, this album is interesting for any number of reasons, not the least that within it you can hear flashes from his past (suggestions of Cinnamon Girl, My My Hey Hey, even Mirror Ball with Pearl Jam) and that it isn't all guitar noise as the title might imply: Love and War is a simple acoustic ballad which is one of his most affecting (with that hint of My My Hey Hey).

And the acoustic Peaceful Valley Boulevard with multi-tracked vocals towards the end is another, although the lyric about shots in the valley and "before the West was won there was a cost" and the poisoning of the land don't let you off so easily.

But the rest is -- well, noise.

With Young's electric guitar distorted and treated electronically by Lanois, looped vocals and other knob-twiddling there are pieces here ("songs" might be putting it too simply) which are gripping.

Angry World is perhaps the most experimental and disturbing: the brief vocal loops provide a strange rhythmic pulse and the guitar veers and slews across the top, and somehow through the centre. Young's lyric that it's an angry world but "everything is going to be alright" sounds an unconvincing sentiment in this context.

For the sonic disturbance that is The Hitchhiker -- large distorted guitar in the foreground, his vocals delayed and bouncing across the speakers -- he reflects on his life, the drugs he took at various times and their effect, how fame frightened him into paranoia, then the cocaine and "I thought I was an Aztec, or a runner in Peru". At the end he admits he doesn't know how he got to be standing here today, but he's "thankful for my children and my faithful wife". It is a song of dark beauty, made more intense by its presentation as a journey in sound.

The final track is Rumblin' ("I hear a rumblin' in her ground") and it really does feel like it works from the shaky earth upwards. 

There is a lot of light and shade on Le Noise, and it is experimental in every sense of the word.  

Lanois says "there's nothing out there like it". Well there is, but not from a major artist like Young.

This is my kind of Neil Young. 

This album comes in a deluxe edition with a DVD of clips for each song.

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