Mere months after Americana was unleashed on the unsuspecting world, Neil decided to make up the difference with a brand new Crazy Horse album, stretched over two discs—the equivalent of a double LP. Psychedelic Pill is just as challenging as that teaser of fuzzy folk songs, loaded with extended jams a la Ragged Glory. Therein lies one challenge; after forty-odd albums under his own name, it’s difficult to listen to something like this without comparing a song to an older one. Plus, newly sober according to his recent memoir, he can’t blame any retreads on the weed.
The album begins with an acoustic strum, then a “hey now now” vocal that launched a dozen Jimmy Fallon impersonations. A little more than a minute in, some harmonies appear, and an electric jam fades up in the mix. For all its meandering, the few direct lyrics decry MP3 sound and Picasso art becoming wallpaper. (What the hell is a “hip-hop haircut” anyway?) At 27 minutes, it threatens to get really tedious, but thankfully it’s no “T-Bone”, instead loping along like “Carmichael”. Thankfully, the music keeps it interesting, even when Poncho sounds like he’s checking his tuning (assuming that’s him in the left channel) and there’s a terrific ending. The title track shares a riff with “Sign Of Love”—and is that a lick from “Cinnamon Girl”?—mixed to flange the guitars while making the one-note melody sound like an outtake from Trans. (The alternate mix tacked at the end of the second disc lacks the swirly effects, and is therefore preferable.) “Ramada Inn” is another long one, nearly seventeen minutes but riveting, talking about a couple that’s been through a lot together, which may or may not be a memoir of its own. (The lyric booklet, set up like that of Americana, is very misleading.) “Born In Ontario” is a welcome country stomp (even if “south” doesn’t rhyme with “months”) and it’s a good place for the first CD to end.
The second disc is a little shorter, but hardly a simpler listen. “Twisted Road” owes a little to “Daddy Went Walking”, picking up on the looking-back of “Born In Ontario” with a tribute to musical heroes. “She’s Always Dancing” fades in mid-solo and meanders like the latter moments on Greendale; indeed, one can picture Sun Green swaying away to it. It’s probably the least interesting song in the set. “For The Love Of Man” provides variety, in a druggy doo-wop kind of way. One might think it was of a piece with some of his hymns of the 21st century, but it turns out to be the 30-year-old song assumed to be titled “I Wonder Why”. Which makes the anachronistic fake strings rather appropriate. The most obvious choice for everyone’s favorite epic would be “Walk Like A Giant”, using his classic tone as long as you don’t mind the final four minutes of thudding sludge, sounding like the accompaniment for the covers being lowered on those giant amps.
The music on Psychedelic Pill was designed specifically to be played long, loud and live, and that’s what he did right after the album came out. We want to like it more than we do—and we do—but two discs’ worth is a lot to handle. And that’s something else that makes Neil someone we love so much: he doesn’t worry over fitting his creations within a set format, rather forcing any format to handle what he provides.
Neil Young with Crazy Horse Psychedelic Pill (2012)—3