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Young collaborates with Lanois on solo album

Brian Robillard | Friday, October 1, 2010

 The title of Neil Young’s latest album, “Le Noise,” is an appropriate allusion to the record’s producer, Daniel Lanois. Though Young’s 33rd studio album is technically a solo effort, Lanois — a renowned producer who has worked with U2, Bob Dylan and Brian Eno — expertly disassembled and manipulated every track to create a remarkable new sound environment for Young. With no band backing Young’s electric guitar, Lanois intervened to create a textured album never heard before from the veteran singer-songwriter.

    Young is no stranger to the electric guitar; it is the basis for his hits on “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” and is used powerfully on “Rust Never Sleeps” — both classic Young albums. Throughout his career, Young’s ability to develop a distinct electric sound has given his music an edge more akin to Warren Zevon than Dylan. On this record, Lanois is responsible for cultivating the best of Young’s simplistic, ragged guitar work and transforming the ensuing amplified tones into the album’s rhythm section, synthesizer and bass.

    By meticulously dissecting every track in order to accentuate particular downbeats, repeat meaningful words, and add heavy reverb, Lanois highlighted the emotional tone found at the core of Young’s songs. The end result — heard notably in “Hitchhiker” and “Angry World” — is a deep, sonic-sounding record where every track is masterfully layered with guitar-playing and singing. The single-instrument approach on “Le Noise” is successful because of Young’s distaste for overdubs on a recording. What the listener hears on “Le Noise” is the initial guitar track that was then edited by Lanois throughout an intricate copy-and-pate process. This culminates in guitar-thick songs that never stray far from the heart of the initial recording.

    “Le Noise” serves as a reminder that Young is a natural songwriter. The album’s straightforward lyrics have a genuine feeling and become even more appealing when backed by Young’s versatile singing. His voice, stretched out and aged over decades of performing, has enough strain in it to remind the audience that his emotions are authentic.

    Though Young’s voice is enhanced by the advanced studio work of Lanois, his singing never sounds processed, and the resulting vocals resonate well with the guitar sound. Employing a reflective tone at times, Young discusses the standard topics of love, death, war and frustration. Though “Le Noise” is very well written, the scattering of topics fall short of creating a driving narrative, and the lyrics can sometimes be lost in the atmospheric sounds. Nonetheless, the overall combination of vocals, lyrics and guitar is captivating.

    “Hitchhiker,” the album’s most defining track, is intended for big speakers, dark rooms and late nights. This song is built upon a droning electric guitar and Young’s simplistic lyrics. Lanois’s ability to echo particular words and phrases helps to compliment the haunting feeling of the drug-inspired, autobiographical song.

    A vintage, Harvest-era Young sound is heard on “Love and War.”  Instead of a crisp guitar playing and harmonica riffs though, Lanois takes the track to a much darker realm. By separating the recording of the higher strings from the bass strings on the souped-up guitar used for this track, Lanois produces a sorrowful song to compliment Young crooning that “the saddest thing in the whole wide world is to break the heart of your lover.”

    Lanois is just what Young needed for his most recent project. Young’s willingness to continually redefine his sound allowed Lanois to improve upon decades of musical performances. Though “Le Noise” is not a Neil Young masterpiece, the album is daring and effectively proves that it takes a talented duo to make a solo record.