Neil Young ramps up the feedback as he snarls out a solo album. Eric Clapton sits on his porch for a blues session with a few buddies. Robert Plant dismisses Led Zeppelin nostalgia and celebrates other joys of youth.
After decades of music-making, all three have different responses to the challenge of being a 60-something rock star. Yet the consensus tends to be that, in the words of Young back in 1979, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
“Le Noise” is a misleading Franglais title from Young, 64. The record is loud in places, though it’s not white noise such as Young’s discordant “Arc” from 1991, which consisted of guitar feedback, drums and vocal fragments.
Instead, Young is attempting a pun on Canadian producer Daniel Lanois, the man known for his “sonic soundscapes” for U2. Lanois takes Young and his guitars and spends the album’s 38-minute duration massaging them with electronic effects, echoes, distortion, sampling and looping.
Amid the gloop there are some great tracks, especially “Hitchhiker.” This autobiographic travelogue runs through hash, amphetamines, Valium and cocaine before Young -- who suffered a brain aneurysm in 2005 -- concludes: “I’ve tried to leave my past behind, but it’s catching up with me/I don’t know how I’m standing here, living my life/I’m thankful for my children and my faithful wife.”
“Clapton” is the first solo studio album in five years from the 65-year-old. “God” is taking it easy with a record so laidback it’s almost comatose. One of the tracks is called “Rocking Chair.”
Still, as Clapton showed at his recent concerts with Jeff Beck, he doesn’t have to try hard (or even be too much awake) to create solos that overwhelm lesser talents.
Clapton has an impressive address book, of course, and J.J. Cale, Wynton Marsalis, Allen Toussaint and Sheryl Crow all lend support. Rating: ***.
“Band of Joy” is an apt title for Robert Plant, 62, who has named the album after one of his first bands in Birmingham from the hippie years. He gleefully pulls together numbers from indie rockers Low and folkie Richard Thompson alongside traditional gospel songs such as “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down.”
Plant is having such fun that another reunion with Alison Krauss may be off the agenda -- and the prospect of a Led Zeppelin reunion looks even more unlikely. Rating: ****.
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
Young and Clapton are on Warner/ Reprise Records; Plant is on Decca/Rounder/Universal. The CDs are priced from $12.98, or 8.99 pounds in the U.K. Download fees vary across services.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)