Where to go when your guitar sound is more distinctive than the rings around Saturn? Neil Young may have joined the ‘classic rock’ pantheon long ago, but he’s been anointed without his consent, rather than walked willingly up any cultural red carpet. As might be expected of someone with such a long recording career, there have been a fair few patchy efforts and wrong-footed moves along the way (Greendale and Living with War were particular stinkers), but any disappointment inevitably stems from Young’s ability to hit the moved-to-tears, dumbfoundingly transcendent button time and again. More often than any other guitarist of his generation, certainly.
It’s brilliant, then, to hear him on premier-league form with Le Noise, teaming up with producer Daniel Lanois to strike a near-perfect balance between righteous, gnarly electric rock and plaintive acoustica. Lanois blurs/contrasts/blends them via his textured electronic soundscaping techniques (using loops, distortion boxes and a specially built, bass-resonant acoustic guitar), so that Young’s sound is both reassuringly Young-like and as you’ve never quite heard it before.
The clamorous ‘Walk With Me’ and ‘Hitchhiker’ could be lifted from ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, were it not for the former’s hypnotic, electronic outro and the echo, delay and reverb slathered all over the latter, while ‘Peaceful Valley Boulevard’, which addresses global warming, tweaks the mournful delights of Comes a Time-era Young. One guitar legend and a range of simple but blindingly effective treatments. Bravo to the old buzzard. Yet again.