Crackling open with fuzzily distorted electric guitars, ‘Walk With Me’ sounds like it is building up to explode in to a huge, full band swamp rock stomp. Unfortunately, this never happens. Instead, Le Noise sees Neil Young accompanied only by his own crackling electric guitar, with all of the proceedings reinterpreted by a bizarre mix of sonic soundscapes courtesy of producer Daniel Lanois. These effects see Neil’s voice drenched in a floaty echo, whilst the guitars either sound dirge-like or fade into nothingness. The moody production acts as a mixed blessing - “Someone’s Going To Rescue You” sees the atmospheric space effects complement Young’s ethereal vocals whereas other songs like “Sound of Love” get lost in their own reverberated noise.
‘Love And War’ is one of the few acoustic cuts on the album and as it a result, it sounds more complete than the lone electric tracks which beg for rhythm accompaniment. The special effects on ‘Love And War’ and ‘Peaceful Valley Boulevard’ are few and far between but illuminate the guitar at the right moments without sounding over the top. As a result, the acoustic tracks prove the album’s highlight thanks to their solemn desperado flair.
As jarring as it initially is, it would however be wrong to say that Le Noise is a misfire. Once you get used to the bizarre soundscape, the strength of the material begins to reveal itself. The effect soaked ‘Angry World’ is a diamond in a rough; consisting of heavy metal riffs contrasted with Young’s high and vulnerable singing, it eventually culminates in a meticulous cacophony of fuzzy guitars, brooding melodies and echo. Le Noise’s key issue is its stylistic indecision. It is as if Young and Lanois aren’t sure whether they wanted to release an album of full-banded heavy swamp rock, solo earnest acoustic Americana or trippy ambience so instead they went with something that could just about be described as psychedelic folk. Le Noise is a challenge to get in to, but it is a mistake to discard it right off. For all its bizarre experimentation, there is enough traditional Neil Young goodness here to enjoy. It just takes longer than usual for it to pop out.