Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Neil Young 48: Psychedelic Pill

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 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 17 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

9 comments:

  1. "... it’s difficult to listen to something like this without comparing a song to an older one..."

    Reminds me of Neil's repartee with a fan at the beginning of the live album Year Of The Horse.

    Fan: "They all sound the same."
    Neil: "It's all one song."

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  2. Pretty much. But I still like him.

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  3. Absolutely! He's one of my 2 or 3 alltime faves. I like that "one" song.

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  4. Enjoyed the review Wardo!

    “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.)

    explain?

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  5. The lyrics in the booklet aren't an exact transcription of what he's singing. Which is fine. Just lends to the MYSTERY....

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  6. Oh, OK. Thanks Wardo.
    Hadn't noticed that.
    Interesting.
    Usually Neil's rather precise about such things.
    odd...

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  7. Nice overview of this album. I haven't heard it yet, but from the sounds of what you say it sounds like something I'd enjoy. Neil has rarely let me down with his music no matter how much he experiments.

    Lee
    Wrote By Rote

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  8. For the record, the "They all sound the same" quote is Neil as heard on Year Of The Horse, not a fan. I was at that show at The Meadows - he had flubbed up Cinnamon Girl and that was his comment to the audience as a result.

    Too bad much of this record didn't sound like he did on tour. I think For The Love Of Man may be the best track of them all. But then again, it's roughly 30 years old, so that's probably why.

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  9. I thought that sounded like him, and not an audience member. Good to know. It's my own fault for passing up that Meadows show.

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