Sunday, October 3, 2010

Le Noise, by Neil Young

Click to get the music!

With lots of blogging to catch up on, I'm going to shake things up a bit by:
a) going out of chronological order.
b) shamelessly suggesting that you obtain the object of the post.
c) writing about something that is not a book at all.

(Seriously, get the album. Download it. Rip it off a CD. Buy the vinyl, and a new turntable with excellent speakers to go with it. I don't care. Just get it.)

Everyone, quite literally, who knows me knows (or is entirely unobservant and dense to the fact) that I am a Neil Young fan. Or I would be, if "fan" adequately covered the unabashed respect I have for Young as a musician, as an individual, as a philanthropist, as an advocate. Goodness knows that such admiration falls far short of blanket admiration for his work. (Don't talk to me about Are You Passionate?, for chrissakes.) But even when I fail to enjoy the musical products that Young releases, I can appreciate that he is going for something, even if what, exactly, that is lies beyond my personal bounds of certainty.

And I'll admit that when I first heard rumblings of Le Noise, the fan in me was skeptical. Oh, sure, I could appreciate that Young was experimenting with new sound. I was ecstatic that he was writing, touring, performing, releasing new music. (Or, at least in the case of "Hitchhiker," old music I hadn't heard before.) I was tickled at the prospect of an album and a concert with just Neil Young and his instruments of choice--no band, no backup singers; just a cigar store Indian with haunting wolf's-eye reflection.

Then, eight days before the release of the record, I saw Neil Young in Panama City, Florida, where he performed six of the eight songs on Le Noise. The show--the entire trip--highlighted the best of what makes Neil Young so influential in my life (and, really, in my art). He brought people together from around the country. He put on this mini-tour to benefit the people along the Gulf Coast. He was accompanied by his family and by LincVolt, his converted electric Lincoln Continental, to promote his view of an alternate world. And alone on stage, none of that mattered. He was a man with his music, and except for the residual (and powerful) aura of Allen Toussaint, nothing else. Maybe seeing the new songs given the electric spark of life from all of twenty feet away made the album better in my mind.

Maybe. But it's a damn fine record, regardless. (And a film.)

I can say very little that hasn't been said elsewhere. Google the album, read the reviews. They're not all glowing, but they're largely well written. And they say everything I could say about the recording process, the sonics, the collaboration with the producer, the power and simplicity of the lyrics.

But what they can't say is that Neil Young, a musician who has shaped my personal views of art, of integrity, of relevance, and of the power of language, has once again revealed to me what is possible. On this record, he doesn't lose his voice, his style, or his drive, all of which combine awesomely on even his middling works. But he takes those same components and puts out anything but "another Neil Young record."

More artists in any genre could learn something from that approach. I hope to.

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