Q: Do you need another Neil Young album in your collection?
A: Why are you even asking such a question?
Most artists burn out or fade away as they age, but not Neil Young, who has been increasing his output, releasing a steady stream of albums, videos, and even a rock opera into his golden years to the point where even hard core fans scramble to keep up. Only Van Morrison and Elvis Costello keep pace with Neil in terms of shear quantity and quality of output. Sure they all have had their ups and downs, but most of their releases reveal riches as you dive into them.
Lucky me, I’m fans of all three of those artists so my struggle to keep up is tripled!
Neil’s most recent release, titled Le Noise, came out a last year ago on CD and LP, but I hadn’t picked it up despite having heard great things about it from a guitarist/producer friend I respect immensely. I meant to, but time flies and sometimes things slip by you. So, on Record Store Day this year, while flipping through the bins at assuming the info on Blu-ray.com is accurate)
So what’s it like? This is like a personal house concert with Neil playing one electric guitar through a couple of amps and employing some outstanding recording techniques and effects processing. Beautifully sung and played, this is the sound of Neil on a big stage right in your living room.
The video is mostly black and white and it fits the vibe of the music perfectly… haunting, a bit angry, plaintive, even tearful. Its a bit spooky too — so much so that I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d found that David Lynch or Anton Corbijin had produced this video (it reminds me at times of the herky-jerky flavor on the latter’s Captain Beefheart mini-documentary Some Yo Yo Stuff).
And then there is the sound, which is, despite the lack drums, despite the lack of bass — it’s just Neil and his guitar — incredibly big. Some great new songs. Some very pure distortion. And Daniel Lanois’ beautiful and sympathetic production. The audio on this disc is reportedly 192 kHz/24 bit, and that would not be a surprise since Neil has put out uber high-res releases like this in the past. It sounds big and warm.
My only wish was that this was in some form of surround sound to capture more of the ambiance of Lanois’ studio home. Nonetheless, the sound is big and will put your system to a fine test of low lows, sparkly highs, and warm mids.
It always comes down to the songs, and there are some heartfelt gems here, complemented by deceptively simple but gorgeous recording techniques. Actually, I found it very useful to watch the making-of video on Neil’s site to really understand some of the detail that went into making this album.
If you can’t find a copy locally, swing by Amazon and pick up Le Noise on Blu-ray. You won’t regret it.