A beautiful noise
The question is, the question always is, what does the new Neil Young record sound like?
The answer, with Le Noise, produced by Daniel Lanois, is loud, electric and uncompromising. You can clean your teeth on the chords.
Fellow Canadian Lanois, who produced U2’s The Joshua Tree (with Brian Eno), and Achtung Baby as well as Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy and Time out of Mind, among other things, recorded the album at his cavernous home.
Lanois has sculpted Young’s guitar into colossal, towering chords and, as he says in an interview (//goo.gl/3hxm) on YouTube: “It’s a hard thing to do to come up with a new sound on the back end of 50 years of rock ‘n roll, but I think we did it.”
This record is a good example of a collaboration of equals, which is why Young chose the title, taking Lanois by surprise.
The record sounds as though it was recorded live, but without the noise of the crowd.
“The worst thing you can do to a musician is squash a head with a pair of cans — and what that does is they don’t enunciate words as well, they get a little quieter,” says Lanois in the interview in his studio.
“Everything sounds brilliant [on headphones], so you get less brilliant with your delivery.
But if you’ve got a PA and you’ve loud amps and the sound is sweet and the house is thundering, then you will deliver like you do on stage.”
Lanois says he has spent years and years developing his “house sonics” and that he wanted Young to understand, in recording the album at his home, that he was bringing “something to the table”.
One of Lanois’s chief strengths is that he has realised the place is as important as the equipment or the mixing, although it does sound at times as though he could be describing a house with a poltergeist.
“He [Young] decided he didn’t want to move — [he said] let’s finish the project in this house. The more we did, the house got more angry and it started reverberating like a big speaker cabinet,” he says, moving his elbows up and down.
“We got louder and he got more confident.
“I had my neighbour saying ‘Is that Neil Young up there?’
“We’re talking like mega volume coming out of this place.”
The album was recorded around the time of four full moons—Young believes this to be the time at which he writes his best music. One of the ground rules was that Young and the production team would “huddle” for two days before—and a day after—a full moon.
Perhaps the best track on the album is the maelstrom of chords that is Hitchhiker, an epic tale that reminds me of Cortez the Killer and tells of life on the road, drugs, fame and redemption.
Lanois is particularly proud of this track, recommending it be listened to on headphones and then you will “realise how many sonic delights exist in there”.
“I put days and days of work into that song, building what I call my ‘black dubs’. You hit certain chords and you think ‘how did that sound ever happen from a guitar’. It happened that way because I extracted, I manipulated, and put back — in black dubs. I did not overdub, I did not put a piano on or another guitar or bass — I took what was already there —”
Angry World is another highlight, with Young’s voice high in the mix over the guitar. Young was embarrassed that the song arrived incomplete, but Lanois was able to extract enough material to build an arrangement.
Peaceful Valley Boulevard recalls the cadences of Harvest’s Natural Beauty and tells of the time when global warming finally begins to bite, proving that things have not really changed that much after all.