by Chris Familton
These are prolific times for Neil Young, even more so than usual with the release of two Crazy Horse albums, a memoir, continued work on next volume of Archives and the development of a new high-end digital music format. Add in touring to promote all of the above and it is something of a landmark year for the 67 year old. Psychedelic Pill’s precursor Americana felt like a warm-up (albeit a great one), a re-setting of the Crazy Horse dial and a chance for the band to find their feet while Young re-calibrated his songwriting compass with a newly drug and alcohol-free state of mind. The good news is that his muse hasn’t deserted him and as a band Crazy Horse are sounding as free-ranging and synchronistic as ever.
At ninety minutes in length the first surprise is that there are only nine songs on the new album with one of them, the title track, presented as two different mixes. The inclusion of both versions is confusing and unnecessary as the first is saturated in a flanger effect, a literal tie-in to the name of the song/album no doubt but it is grossly distracting and offers nothing to the record, especially when the straight take on the song that closes the album is so much better, a grizzly rampage in the good tradition of songs like Fuckin’ Up from Ragged Glory.
What we get with those eight different songs is a musical journey guided by Young’s muse through a world where time and place are irrelevant – time in the sense of both lyrical subject matter and a disregard for conventional song structure. Ramada Inn and Walk Like A Giant both hit sixteen minutes, paling in comparison to the epic twenty seven minute stretch of Driftin’ Back with Young’s guitar conjuring up billowing squalls of distortion and spiraling infinite solos.
The relationship between Psychedelic Pill and his memoir is an important one. Both are documents of Young’s life in emotional and geographical terms. As he has done increasingly ever since the release of Harvest Moon, Young remembers lost friends, faded dreams and places he loves with a warm nostalgia. Walk Like A Giant, with its infectious whistling melody bemoans the loss of the hippie dream – a theme he has often visited in song. Born in Ontario pays homage to his hometown and feels like a restating of his Canadian roots while Twisted Road charts the emotions he felt upon hearing Dylan, Orbison and The Grateful Dead with a warm and wistful country feel in the vein of 1977’s Homegrown.
Crazy Horse are best known for their epic, scorched-earth guitar jams yet their records always throw up beautiful and tender moments like For The Love of Man. The song is another in the endless canon of love songs but this one takes a different tact, questioning the concept and institution of religion. It offers no answers, just elegiac questions and shows that for all his gruff railings at the world Young can also leave open-ended questions hanging gracefully in the air.
Fans of Neil Young & Crazy Horse will rightfully relish Psychedelic Pill as yet another worthy addition to their discography. They will forgive him for his excessive romanticising and celebrate the epic sprawl of the album in a way that many younger listeners just discovering the band might not. This is an album that feels eminently real and from the heart and soul of four musicians who respect, honour and follow the song wherever it may take them.
this review was first published on FasterLouder