I saw Neil Young in concert a few years ago and discovered his voice has stayed the same despite his age. Like Dylan, his voice was never what anyone would call “good”, however time has found Dylan turning to a Tom Waits, blood on the pavement growl, whereas Mr. Young’s mourning falsetto has remained timeless. At that same concert I also noticed that his recent sound and songwriting were not as strong. His songs from Fork In the Road were frustratingly corny tunes about alternative vehicles and fuel, and the licks behind these songs were clichéd and fumbling. But Le Noise finds the man in his mid-6os crafting possibly his loudest and most intimate record to date. This is a man who has recorded with Pearl Jam and Crazy Horse, and yet his loudest album features only him on vocals and guitar.
Songs like “Love and War” and “Angry World” are some of Young’s strongest in years, however what really makes this album special is Daniel Lanois’ production. Not that there is any T-Paining going on here, but Lanois plays with Young’s voice perfectly, especially at the beginning of “Angry World” where it sounds like he is singing “hate me” over and over again. But the vocal production is a subtle complement to the reverb and feedback-heavy crunch of Young’s electric guitar. “Walk With Me” opens the album with such stadium-filling roar that you’d never believe there is just one instrument being played. Though the record has quieter moments, the production is so lush and full that the casual listener may not even notice the lack of drums, etc. right away. This may be a stretch, but I compare this effect to the one I felt when watching the film No Country For Old Men. That film is so well done, that you never realize there is not a single second of music during the entire two-plus hours, just gripping acting and claustrophobic cinematography.
Brilliant production aside, this is Neil Young’s show. He’s ditched the soap box-y gimmicks and returned to painfully naked poetry. Love lingers, war and violence do, drugs and discovery as well. Young doesn’t explore any new territory here lyrically, but that’s fine, he’s been one of the greatest songwriters of the last 40 years because he understands the human experience and can relate mans disconnect with his surroundings better than nearly anyone around. The fact that he’s taken a new direction sonically only heightens the experience of Le Noise as a late-period masterpiece for the last remaining hippie.