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Neil Young rocks digital - in an old-school way

Neil Young plays in Winnipeg on July 26, 2010.

John Woods/The Globe and Mail

Neil Young's newest album is running with the new streams of digital music distribution, but it's hardly blazing new trails. Then again, he's "old school."

In a posting on Facebook last week, Young announced that his forthcoming solo album, titled Le Noise, will be rolled out Sept. 28 on a variety of platforms ranging from vinyl records to an application for the hot-selling iPad.

But to own the album on day one, fans must turn to either CD, vinyl or iTunes downloads. About a month later, a Blu-ray edition and free apps for iPhone and iPad that feature an interactive album cover, and integrate songs or videos bought through iTunes, will follow.

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"Forgive my use of the word 'album,' " Young said in the announcement. "I am old school."

In the past, Young has derided the quality of sound of digital files but has rarely seemed afraid of digital distribution the way artists such as John Mellencamp were - Mellencamp once described the Internet as "the most dangerous thing invented since the atomic bomb." Young has flirted with music's new technological for years, and as early as 2004 he was conceding to Wired magazine that "the Internet is the new radio" and that "to tell the stories I want to tell, I have to use everything that's available and use it all at once."

Then, as he finalized his sprawling and laboriously created box set, he took advantage of technologies that allow new archival content he unearths to be downloaded to a virtual filing cabinet on the 10-disc Blu-ray version, allowing the collection to expand almost indefinitely.

Still, music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz is perplexed that Young, with all the resources of his label Warner Music behind him, wasn't more ambitious in distributing his latest work. He sees no way of generating added revenue from "hard-core" fans in Young's strategy and said not having the apps available the day the album drops is a mistake.

"This is not trendsetting," Lefsetz said. "Nothing here seems like a breakthrough unless there's some kind of functionality in the iPad app."

Indeed, Young's strategy increasingly feels like the norm, even for the old guard of Canadian musicians. A publicist for Bruce Cockburn said plans are in the works for a worldwide digital release of Cockburn's next studio album, and that there will be exclusive content available only through digital downloads.

Representatives from Young's Canadian label, Warner Music Canada, were not available for comment.

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Famed Quebec-born producer Daniel Lanois steered the recording of Young's new disc at his home in Los Angeles and has described the songs as "fantastic," with an "electro" feel and a "massive sound."

Lanois, at least, has come up with a different and public way to drum up interest in Young's new tunes: at Nuit Blanche, Toronto's annual all-night contemporary art event on Oct. 2, four of the recorded tracks will be overlaid with "striking visuals" filmed while Young was recording the album as part of an installation Lanois is organizing.

With a report from Brad Wheeler

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About the Author
Banking Reporter

James Bradshaw is banking reporter for the Report on Business. He covered media from 2014 to 2016, and higher education from 2010 to 2014. Prior to that, he worked as a cultural reporter for Globe Arts, and has written for both the Toronto section and the editorial page. More

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