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Album Review

Young’s ‘Le Noise’ sonically bracing

September 27, 2010

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Anyone who has seen Neil Young live — or maybe just Jonathan Demme’s recent concert film, “Neil Young Trunk Show’’— knows “Le Noise’’ is the album he was bound to make sooner or later.

Produced by Daniel Lanois, it’s a bracing solo album that distills Young’s snarling guitar prowess, mostly electric but occasionally dialed down. The common presumption about Lanois is that he will shroud the songs in ethereal ambience, like he did so beautifully on Emmylou Harris’s “Wrecking Ball.’’

“Le Noise’’ is not exactly that kind of album. Instead, it builds a rich sonic arch around Young’s voice and guitar, bottling the essence of what makes him such a compelling singer-songwriter at 64. Lanois’s approach is firmly observational, putting Young front and center in a cacophony of distortion. Starting with the opening “Walk With Me,’’ he lets Young simply plug in and rip into big, muscular riffs.

Young’s songwriting is just as pointed, too. On the acoustic “Love and War,’’ the distortion is gone and Young is in a reflective mood. “Seen a lot of young men go to war/ And leave a lot of young brides waiting/ I’ve watched them try to explain it to their kids/ Seen a lot of them failing.’’ He’s unflinching in his assessment of how it will end: “Daddy won’t ever come home.’’

He examines his own demons on “Hitchhiker,’’ a clear-eyed account of how he struggled early on with his success. “But the neon lights and the endless nights/ Fame took me by surprise,’’ he sings. “The doctor gave me valium/ But I still couldn’t close my eyes.’’ (Out tomorrow) JAMES REED

ESSENTIAL “Hitchhiker’’