Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill

In the 60’s and 70’s it seemed like artists released records more quickly. They’d put out a great record, tour for a bit, then get right back into the studio. It seemed like this model began to shift in the late 80’s. I’m not sure if it was waiting 4 years for Guns ‘n’ Roses to put out the Use Your Illusion albums or if it was the 3 years between Disintegration and Wish by The Cure. Either way, major acts began to make the fans wait an inordinate amount of time between records. Neil Young has thankfully been (mostly) an exception to this rule.

The longest wait between Neil Young’s studio albums has been that dreaded 4 years (between the release of 1996’s Broken Arrow and 2000’s Silver and Gold). That was easily the longest gap in a career that has spanned over 45 years. In the ordinary course of events, it is very common for Neil Young to release a record every 12 to 18 months (with Crazy Horse, solo, various backing bands, or with CSN&Y). Americana was released just a few months ago – a record full of standards done up in the Crazy Horse way. What I loved about that record was the unbridled enthusiasm of Neil and the band connecting with the old days, tapping into the energy of youth. Consider me pleasantly surprised to be listening to the 2nd record released in 2012 by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill. Consider me blown away that this 8 song, 90 minute album is one of the best of Neil’s career.

Finding My Religion (track by track analysis)

Driftin’ Back (27:36) – haunting acoustic guitar opens the record with Neil Young singing “Hey now, hey now now / I’m driftin’ back” before the entire band enters the mix. Vintage Crazy Horse feel, classic rock with hints of grunge. The song veers off into several free form guitar workouts between verses, which may try the patience of those who are not accustomed to 5 or 6 minute solos from Neil Young (I love it). Song shifts from reflection to anger and back again several times. Could be a considered a coda to Neil’s autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace. My favorite lyric “Blocking out my anger / Finding my religion / I might be a pagan”

Psychedelic Pill (3:26) – This seems to be a sore point for some reviewers – I quite like it. Feels like something out of the 60’s, Neil’s voice fading in and out of the mix. Not a very strong chorus, but it really works as a deep album cut. Guitar refrain is instantly memorable. Key words: “The way she dances makes my world stand still / And she’s spinning in the sky / Every move is like a psychedelic pill / From a doctor I can’t buy”. The last track on the 2nd CD is an alternate mix – that puts the guitar higher in the mix and does away with the vocal f/x. I prefer the alternate version.

Ramada Inn (16:49) – Quite simply, my favorite song on the new record. It details a couple through the years as they face life’s challenges, and one in particular – alcoholism. It always comes back to the refrain “She loves him so  / She loves him so / She does what she needs to”, each time sung with different tones of emotion. The guitar is never overbearing but is extremely melodic and sucks you into the story. A break from the darkness comes with the words “Every morning comes the sun / And they both rise to the day / Holding on to what they’ve done”. The solos throughout are vintage Neil Young. Key lyrics:

Seem like lately things are changing
Seems like lately things are going south
A few drinks now and she hardly knows him
He just looks away and he checks out

And when she says “it’s time for him to do something,
Maybe talk to his old friends who gave it up.”
He just pours himself another tall one
Closes his eyes and says “that’s enough”

Born in Ontario (3:49) – a throwaway track, sounds like something you could sit around and sing among friends. The term “throwaway” isn’t always a bad thing, this is a nice change of pace for the album and really fits within the context of the record. A bar room jam with a shouted chorus, it is a nice little tune.

Twisted Road (3:28) – a lighter tone with this track as Neil recounts his experiences listening to his inspirations. The melody feels effortless and the words roll off Neil’s tongue like they have always existed. A throwback, 60’s influenced track. “Walking with the devil on a twisted road / Listen to the Dead on the radio / That old-time music used to soothe my soul”

She’s Always Dancing (8:33) – harmony vocals, this track reminds me of “Be the Rain” off of 2003’s Greendale (in fact, it borrows portions of that track in its instrumentation). Menacing guitar contrasted with the sweet melody and perfect singing from Neil Young. The band locks into a groove and never lets up. Neil repeats several times in various emotional guises “She likes to burn” before leading up to this amazing line “Floating in the smoke / she says it gives her hope”

For the Love of Man (4:13) – a sequel of sorts to Neil’s heartbreaking 1982 song “Transformer Man” about raising his disabled child. A track that recalls Neil’s folk side. Sweetly sung vocals, recalling Roy Orbison (one of Neil’s inspirations he sung about earlier in the record).  “why the angels cry / and the heavens sigh / when a child is born to live / but not like you or I”

Walk Like a Giant (16:27) – The third extended jam of the record and it is brilliant. A slow burn of a jam with guitar solos carrying the track. A repetitive and catchy whistling refrain between the words. This song is all about recapturing the spirit of the 60’s and serves as an effective closer to the record. Neil Young stated several times in his autobiography that playing with Crazy Horse provides him with a transcendent experience – you’ll see what he means when you listen to this track. The love, anger, and pure emotion ooze from every portion of this song. This isn’t just a story – this is a very personal track and it is all the more impressive for it. Key lyrics:

Whenever I see the big fire coming,
Coming to burn down all my ideas
I try to hold down to my thinking, and remember how it feels
When I’m looking right in your eyes
And hearing your happy laugh
When I’m seeing your blue eyes shining
And hear your happy laugh
So the moment came, and the big sky rained and
And a pool of fire served in my desire

When I think about how good it feels
I wanna walk like a giant on the land
I wanna walk like a giant on the land

I’d have to give two thumbs up to this record (like Siskel & Ebert). 2012 has seen 2 very different records from Neil Young & Crazy Horse, and amazingly they are both unique in Neil Young’s vast catalog. The 1st was a walk down memory lane, a covers record done in “The Way of the Horse”. This latest record is the 1st double CD by Mr. Young and features the longest song of his career. The lyrics dovetail nicely with his recently released autobiography and the music is timeless. Neil Young can and will do whatever the fuck he wants – I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Verdict: Easy Pill to Swallow


Disc One:
1) Driftin’ Back (27:36)
2) Psychedelic Pill (3:26)
3) Ramada Inn (16:49)
4) Born in Ontario (3:49)

Disc Two:
1) Twisted Road (3:28)
2) She’s Always Dancing (8:33)
3) For the Love of Man (4:13)
4) Walk Like a Giant (16:27)
Bonus Track:
5) Psychedelic Pill (Alternate Mix)

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