5 out of 5 stars
To some, Neil Young’s latest album will be nothing more than a massive dollop of self-indulgence. But for those who share his passion, and unrestrained creativity, the longest studio record of his career is also one of his best.
It should first be noted that this album is not exactly ‘psychedelic’. When the title was first revealed, cries of pain, anguish and worry echoed from fan communities, wondering just what the hell the mercurial Young was going to do this time.
But rest assured, he was using his old magic in ways oft-cited, but never beaten.
Psychedelic Pill is not a massive departure in terms of Young and Crazy Horse’s sound – prolonged guitar solos make up around 40-minutes of the album, reverberating harmonies trickle through every track, and the basic guitar chords and bass/snare drumbeat rarely varies.
But what Psychedelic Pill does well, and differently to Young’s releases of recent, is combine the best elements of the past and transforms them into the future. There are fragments here of Neil’s solo electric 2010 release Le noise, shadows of Crazy Horse’s last venture on Greendale, shades of the rather disappointing Broken Arrow album, and then epics such as Rust Never Sleeps on the lengthy, distortion riddled big hitters.
And one of these big hitters kicks off the album – the epic, 27-minute ‘Driftin’ Back’. Starting out acoustic, it’s not long before Neil’s electric onslaught barrages the listener with squeals, squeaks, and soaring distortion. And while the lyrics are somewhat simplistic, it’s ‘Driftin’ Back’ which is likely to go down as the best song off the album in the future.
The title track ‘Psychedelic Pill’ is not exactly as the title seems. Instead of some kind of Beatles psychedelia, the track is an odd, reverbed, ‘Cinnamon Girl’ riffed track. It’s a little flimsy, and possibly the second weakest song on the album, closely behind ‘For the Love of Man’ – a languid, plodding, tiresome trip laden with schmaltz and sugary lines of little meaning. Still, the latter is an old archived song, so it’s nice to hear it brought to life away from bootlegs recordings.
But by far the best songs here are the enigmatic, soothing ‘Ramada Inn’, and the powerful, unpredictable, destructive ‘Walk Like a Giant’. Both songs tip the 15-minute mark, and both are full of strange guitar solos and catchy little refrains.
But it’s the imagery Neil creates in these songs which makes them stand above the rest. From the simple, observant verses, to the sheer anger and frustration contained in the leading riffs and solos, Neil is wrestling with his emotions and wrestling with his guitar to prove it. Arguably, these two tracks are some of his best. Ever.
There are some mild downfalls, many already touched upon here. At times, the guitar solos wail on just a shy too long. The lyrics through a handful of songs are nothing more than blog-like scribbles from Young’s unbridled mind. And admittedly, Crazy Horse seem somewhat propped up at times.
But through those mild imperfections, for an expert Young fan, this album is a must. For a casual listener, the same applies. Simply, this is vital to any Neil Young collection.
And while Crazy Horse may be not the most articulate, inventive, or imaginative band, they roll on Neil’s muse with passion, feeling, and raw order. It’s a cocktail which worked on many albums before and is still intoxicating here.
There are always comparisons between Neil Young and Bob Dylan, and there always will be, especially with the two of them seemingly matching album releases (what with Dylan’s excellent Tempest a few weeks ago). They are two living legends of a similar genre, bouncing off each other a vast majority of the time. Personally, I always justify who I prefer to listen to like this – if you want poetry, head for Dylan.
But if you want passion, head for Young. You certainly will not look back.
Must listen tracks:
Walk Like a Giant
More filler than thriller:
For the Love of Man
Words: Ashley Scrace