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Best Albums of 2010 Series: “Le Noise,” Neil Young

19th December

 

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No matter how many “Best Albums of 2010″ lists you read on the web this month, somehow you just can’t shake the feeling that you’re reading the same one over and over again. There’s a pretty good reason for that: You are, and it’s sad. Most lists read like they were composed by a cadre of 20-something Vampire Weekend roadies who crowded the local wheat grass bar and nursed their flax and spirulina smoothies as they chattered in passing about music. In most cases the albums they discuss reflect only a narrow sliver of the year’s creative bounty. And almost invariably, they acknowledge only bands that are at least as young if not younger than they are, bands they overheard fellow pseudo hipsters praising over Venti Spelnda-sweetened extra dry skim-milk Americanos, or bands whose music sounds like somebody just blasted three pterodactyls out of the sky all at once with a thousand-pound nail gun.

That’s one of many reasons why Neil Young’s Le Noise is both right for the cultural moment in which it was released and why, pitted against so many of the year’s lesser but lauded records, it smacks of a creative desperation that in eight brief tracks obliterates the pervading cynicism and emotional catatonia of the “indie only” crowd that has ignored it. These songs were all recorded in one or two takes so as not to dilute the immediacy of the creative impulse from which they emerged, and that Young has managed at age 65 and after countless records to do something he has never done before–a solo electric album–is a testament to the restlessness of his muse and to his enduring standing as one of rock ‘n roll’s genuine mavericks.

Young has been crucified for that very “restlessness” over the past decade, as uneven and therefore characteristically fascinating releases like Are You Passionate, Greendale or Fork in the Road earned a reception which, like Le Noise, exposes even his most longstanding fans as crybabies who hold him personally responsible for the fact that it’s not 1972 anymore.  Even the most casual glance at customer reviews of Le Noise on Amazon.com reveals a host of whiners crying that it doesn’t sound enough like something they heard when they were 12 and their mothers still sported beehive hairdos.  It’s not enough like On the Beach, or it doesn’t sound like Harvest, or it isn’t the same as Rust Never Sleeps. They don’t hear a “Pocahontas” or a “Cortez the Killer.” Many of these complaints begin with “I’m the biggest Neil Young fan in the world, but . . .”

And that’s just it: How on earth any self-proclaimed “fan” of Neil Young cannot exalt in the rich and anthemic riffs that open “Sign of Love” or “Angry World” on this album is utterly mystifying (to say nothing of the fact that the two acoustic offerings on this record, “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” and “Love and War,” are among the most stirring acoustic songs the man has done since the days of “Pardon My Heart” or “Look out for My Love“). If anything, these “fans” are the sort who mistake art for an anodyne, who think music should always palliate and never challenge, who bristle at authenticity because it doesn’t croon the lullaby that plays in the background of their nostalgic fantasies of long-gone days.

Dylan put together a documentary called Don’t Look Back in 1965 as he fumed across the world on a tour that saw fans shout “Judas!” because he wouldn’t play the monkey to their organ grinder, pounding them with “Leopardskin Pillbox Hat” when they paid to hear him sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” all night long. Le Noise is the latest evidence that Neil Young took the man’s advice. Fans endowed with the courage to look forward with him will hear in Le Noise the work of a creative spirit as much at war with itself today as it was when he was just the kid who played guitar for Buffalo Springfield.

Daniel Lanois’s presence on the project could have been an unadulterated disaster because Neil Young’ s music is a dish best served raw, and Lanois’s brand of voodoo atmospherics is anything but undercooked. But it turns out that it was Lanois’s idea to amp up the acoustic album Neil intended to record and turn it into a solo electric set instead. There are times when Lanois just can’t help himself, as he drags out the opening stunner “Walk With Me” with what seems like an eternity of aimless reverb and distortion that serves no purpose other than to lengthen an album that otherwise might have lasted no longer than a drink of water. But elsewhere he is pleased to step back from the songs and let the rage of “Old Black” have the floor.

The first six tracks here–from the primal, Rust-era grunge of “Walk With Me” and “Angry World” to the lonely reverbarations of Neil’s acoustic guitar on the desolate “Peaceful Valley Boulevard”–blaze with a creative fury that is at once disquieting and restorative. “Hitchhiker” and “Rumblin'” add nothing to what is achieved in the songs that precede them but it is at least nice to finally hear an official version of “Hitchhiker,” even if it falls well short of the majesty of the live acoustic version fans have come to know and love.

You won’t find Le Noise on the “Best of 2010″ list over at (enter favorite smarmy indie music blog here), but you will find it on the minds of music lovers a generation from now while so many fly-by-night bands currently enjoying a loving spotlight dwindle into the dusk of their momentary celebrity.The material on Le Noise boasts the strength, urgency and variety of Young’s finest records, and when the smoke of its mixed reception clears, it may well be ranked in that company.

Click here for Neil Young’s FB page

Gianmarc Manzione
gmanzione@culturespill.com

Neil Young: Four Rare Tracks

12th June

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One of the joys of living in the age of the mp3 is that we have easier access to moments in the careers of legends that otherwise would never have reached our fingertips. Such is the case with Neil Young, easily one of the most prolific recording artists in the history of rock ‘n roll. Now with news that the agonizingly anticipated archives boxed set will actually feature a collection of blue-ray DVDs and NOT, as fans had assumed for so many years, a collection of CDs that offered a rumored treasure chest of outtakes, live numbers, and demos, it appears that Neil will only avail us of those treasures drip by drip as opposed to all at once. Most recently he has teased us with gems like the Massey Hall and Fillmore live sets or the upcoming Toast album he recorded with Crazy Horse and abandoned in 2002. So we thought we would treat you to yet more teasers straight from the Culturespill vaults. Here they are (just click on any of the song titles to listen):

War Song: The esteemed Hyperrust alleges that this track was recorded around the “Harvest timeframe.” However, this anti-war rocker is so raw that it sounds as if it were recorded even earlier than that, perhaps pre-“Ohio”–at a time in Neil’s career when he was still finding his voice as an opponent of war. Nonetheless, we must defer to Hyperrust’s well-established authority on this one. Download the track and come to your own conclusions.

Sedan Delivery (Early Demo): Though this classic Neil tune eventually appeared on 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps, an early and–in our opinion–much grittier version of the song was recorded for the American Stars ‘N Bars sessions in 1977. Neil decided to leave it off of that particular album and, by 1979, the song found new clothes as an almost self-consciously “punk” anthem shrewdly reconstructed to appease prevailing tastes in the late-70s punk scene. As hallowed as the official version of “Sedan Delivery” is, we humbly submit to you that this one–raw, less frenetic, and more straightforward in delivery–will prove just as enjoyable. Give it a chance.

Fuckin’ Up (Live, solo acoustic): A solo-acoustic version of the one and only “Fuckin’ Up,” recorded live as a raucous audience claps and sings along in sheer disbelief that Neil had chosen to do this song in one of his “An Evening With Neil Young” solo acoustic shows–a typically ballsy move, and an absolute delight to hear.

River of Pride: Don’t let the title fool you. This is a very early and raw but rockin’ demo of a song that would later become known as “White Line” from the brilliant Ragged Glory album of 1990. This version, however, was recorded as far back as the late 1970s and is, for that reason, absolutely fascinating to hear. It’s slower and grittier than the version we know and love.