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Neil Young, 64: Still going strong (Adam Vollick/Adam Vollick)
Neil Young, 64: Still going strong (Adam Vollick/Adam Vollick)

Music

Neil Young rebuilt, with help from Daniel Lanois Add to ...

For Lanois, making Le Noise was a bit like taking on voluntarily the kind of constraints imposed by poverty on the pioneers of Jamaican dub. "They had very limited tools, and created great spin echoes, and developed an entire form with very little equipment," he said, looking remarkably fit for a man of 59 still on the mend from a serious motorcycle accident in June. He was tightly clad in a black-leather jacket, with a growth of salt-and-pepper beard and a straw brimmed hat pulled low on his brow.

He has a well-deserved reputation as a virtuoso producer, but in this case his kit was relatively simple. He used only three or four treatment boxes on the whole album, he said, producing other effects through simple but inventive use of standard equipment.

"You don't get the impression Neil's being pounced upon by overdubs," Lanois said. "It's an extraction from an already-existing, wonderful cloth. We just reintroduced it back into the tapestry in a magnified weave."

Not surprisingly, one of the main figures in the tapestry is Young's guitar, both acoustic and electric. The guitar sounds are so rich and varied on Le Noise that at times the album seems like an eight-part love song to an instrument grown larger than life - though there's not a guitar solo on the whole record.

"The guitar was so much a part of the soul of it," Young said. "It was front and centre, and there's a lot of room to hear it, because there was nothing in the way. Daniel could work all of his magic and put all his genius sounds together. I'd take a song to him, and sing him three verses, and play rhythm figures for a long time, and suddenly a bunch of things would start growing out of it. It's like a garden, it's all there, he can take it and do whatever he wants with it. We kept watering it and it kept growing."

That flowering of possibilities seemed to flow into Young's songwriting. Each time they convened "the all-Canadian band" (as he called the quartet of himself, Lanois, engineer Mark Howard and videographer Adam Vollick, whose short videos will appear on the deluxe CD and Blu-ray versions of the album) for another full-moon session, Young had more new songs, spanning the most personal and public sides of his work.

Le Noise follows a real emotional road map, beginning with a trilogy of songs (all founded on a heavy tonic D) about the kind of hard-won security that comes from knowing that at least one person in the world will always love and shelter you. Walk With Me and Sign of Love are both celebrations of conjugal love, from the point of view of a man who has lived to see the day when "we both have silver hair, and a little less time."

From there, the record swerves into uncertainty and dread, through songs about environmental degradation (the long, mournful elegy, Peaceful Valley Boulevard) and free-floating rage and division ( Angry World, in which Young's sometimes sarcastic account finally shatters into flecks of vocal sound too short to be heard as words). There's also the long-gestating drug diary of Hitchhiker, a song Young started writing some 35 years ago.

"It always felt like an unfinished song to me," he said, of a tune he has performed in concert, but never recorded till now. "I never felt good about where it ended up, it never got to the thankful part, where you feel, 'I made it, I made it this far.' I changed some of the chords under the same melody, so the melody felt different, and a few things just settled into place.

"That story is a metaphor for a lot of things," he said, "The drugs themselves, and different periods of growth and struggle, and trying to attain something, and running into things like paranoia and loss. And also discovery, and open water."

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