Few artists have the credentials of Neil Young. This is why an uneven but intriguing work like Le Noise would be a risky debut or mid-career gamble for most unknown or established acts. For Young, it is enigmatic and pleasantly surprising. Essentially a solo album with a two-man band, Le Noise finds the sonic-minded producer Daniel Lanois providing his airy sheen to Young's raw outbursts. (Le Noise, Lanois. Coincidence?) Once the initial eccentricity of the album diminishes, the album reveals itself as an engaging, introspective work.
Opening with the fuzzy guitar assaults of "Walk With Me"—pluralized by Lanois's multi-tracking—the song also poignantly addresses the spate of recently deceased friends that inform Le Noise ("I lost some people I was traveling with"). Yet the bellowing next track, "Sign of Love," suffers from Young's pedestrian lyrics, distracting digital gimmickry, and its eerie similarity to "Walk With Me."
Based on the album's early tracks, it remains unclear whether Lanois' presence will be more of a hindrance or a benefit. Thankfully, more often, the union is enjoyably symbiotic. The echo-chamber boom of the acoustic guitar on "Love and War" sounds plucked from Ricky Nelson's "Lonesome Town," while the ornamental acoustic arpeggios of "Peaceful Valley Boulevard" are somberly evocative. Young soberly uses these slower tracks to explore his career and America respectively.
Despite setbacks, like the lyrically banal, busy "Angry World," the career and life retrospective qualities of Le Noise are engaging. Thank-fully, like Young himself, Le Noise seems to get better with wear.