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Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill

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Artist: Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Album: Psychedelic Pill

Label: Reprise

Review date: Oct. 30, 2012

Neil Young’s original music post-Greendale has been a source of escalating frustration. Life In War took an old idea that once worked for CSNY — make a song about the news and release it while the news is still fresh — and sunk it like a pillowcase full of rock with leaden, one-dimensional songs. Le Noise so completely swamped its songs in echo and production legerdemain that it seemed more like a product demo for Daniel Lanois’s amp set-up than a record. And Chrome Dreams II posed, but failed to answer, the question why not simply release Chrome Dreams? Reuniting with Crazy Horse to make Americana seemed like one more half-step; covering the American soundbook gets around the problem of not writing strong new songs, but the Horse sounded like they didn’t know why they had been let out of the barn. So now comes Psychedelic Pill; it is Young’s second record with Crazy Horse in one year, his longest studio album ever, and one of his most ironically named, since he made it after ceasing to use all mind-altering substances for the first time in his adult life. Say what you want, but at least the guy’s raising the stakes.

And maybe having more skin in the game is just what he needed, because this is the first Neil Young album I’ve felt like playing more than thrice since, well, since before Greendale. He opens it audaciously with “Drifting Back,” a song that lasts nearly half an hour. If the prospect of Crazy Horse sitting on its collective duff and playing “Oh Susanna” filled you with dismay, consider yourself apologized to; they may take their time and then some, but they sound like they’re totally into the journey. Young’s at the head of the posse, leading with his guitar; he isn’t soloing so much as wandering, but again, engaged with the journey. The song’s lyrics put Young’s phase of life on the table. He’s looking back over his hippy days, looking with disgust at the way things are now, mulling it all over and trying to make sense of how he and the world each got to where they are. This is unabashed old man rock, but so true and lucid that I like to think I would have hung with it if I’d heard it when I first fell for Rust Never Sleeps 33 years ago.

The album contains two other epics, both taken at a similarly unhurried pace. “Ramada Inn’s” 16:50 length works in its favor, because you feel like you’re there experiencing a marriage’s ups and downs along with the people who are living it. It’s a hell of a feat to keep a story like this focused, but Young does it with a combination of plainspoken language and wide-ranging, yearning-steeped guitar solos. “Walk Like A Giant” returns to “Drifting Back’s” life-review theme, as refracted through other Young songs; it resurrects “Mansion On The Hill’s” theme of trying something one more time, but keeps slipping in quotes from “Hey Hey My My.” The titular giant is the foolishly grandiose younger Young, the one who thought that he and his generation could change the world. He knows better now, but he stomps anyway, and nothing stomps quite like Crazy Horse hitting the same damned chord for four minutes. When the hoofs come down as one, the ground shakes.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a good Neil Young album without some corn and head scratching. The title song is the slightest thing on the record, but he trots it out twice, and even has the nerve to call one version a bonus track. And “Born In Ontario” doesn’t just celebrate its just-folksness, it rolls in it like a dog in shit — and sounds just as happy doing so. Psychedelic Pill is earnest and perverse, simplistic and complicated, epic and underachieving — guess the old cuss still has it in him after all.

By Bill Meyer

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