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The best Crazy Horse album in 20 years? Ever?
, November 4, 2012
This review is from: Psychedelic Pill (Audio CD)
As a long time Neil Young (and Crazy Horse) fan, I have come to expect, even on his best albums, a mixed bag - for what makes him great (his willingness to cast absolutely everything aside for the sake of inspiration) is also what makes him frustrating (see Greendale, his last record with Crazy Horse...an album with considerable potential that came out sounding like a first draft in bad need of an edit). With his newest, Psychedelic Pill, however, the inspiration comes across undaunted with very little of this aforementioned downside. This is a passionate, positive album from a band that still sounds inspired and even hungry into their late 60s, and shows us, as Leonard Cohen did earlier this year, that getting old is entirely optional.
Psychedelic Pill opens with "Driftin' Back", a long trance-jam meditation that never sounds flat or boring, and even feels somehow too short at 27 minutes. The lyrics - which decry the sorry state of MP3s and consider the merits of a "Hip hop haircut," whatever the hell that is - seem improvised throughout, but they are not the point here...the here-to-eternity instrumentals are, and they more than make up for any forced rhymes. The title track, a short, celebratory stomper that's simple but not slight, follows, with frenetic speaker-to-speaker transitions that give it a fuzzy, hallucinogenic quality. The third song, "Ramada Inn" is one of Neil's all-time greats, a simple paean to love over time with a few amazing (and deeply moving - almost devastating) chord changes. The extended solos here are, again, never, ever boring, and sound as fresh, loud, and inspired as anything Neil has played in ages. The first disk ends with "Born in Ontario" a joyous country-rock chugger that tells Neil's story much more succinctly - and perhaps effectively - than he did over 490 pages of his recent autobiography.
Disc two is no let-up. "Twisted Road" picks up, both lyrically and musically, where "Born in Ontario" leaves off, celebrating the past without lamenting its passing, and then "She's Always Dancing", replete with more impassioned soloing, provides an answer to the bitter-sweetness of "Ramada Inn" by extolling the virtues of being in the moment, "Out on the edge," where there are "No ties to bind [us] down." Next, "For the Love of Man" provides a simple, soft respite, but is by no means a throwaway, its lovely piano and ambling pace giving it the qualities of an old-time spiritual.
The album ends with the excellent "Walk Like a Giant," a song as epic lyrically as it is musically, and that's saying something. (I first heard it on his recent tour, and told my wife and friend, five minutes in, "This is a damn great song." They both said they were about to say the same thing.) There is lament here - "We were ready to save the world/ But the weather changed/ And the white got stained/ And it fell apart/ And it breaks my heart/ To think about how close we came/ I want to walk like a giant on the land" - but there is also, if only in the sheer, unceasing joyousness of the musical delivery, hope, as though Neil is saying that we didn't quite make it even while showing us that we still can. "Walk Like a Giant" is a contender for my favorite Neil track of all time, and that is also really saying something.
I've always maintained, when looking at Neil's recent work, one must judge him in relation to his 60s peers - in which case he almost always comes off better. Psychedelic Pill, however, stands on its own merits as one of the best releases of 2012, no matter who you compare it to. This album rocks in a way that is both thrilling and moving, and there are no let-downs, no moments where one might say, "If only he had done this..."
And while there is no new ground broken here - Neil and the Horse employ the same simple, loud, repetitive structure that they always have - their old, hallowed ground is revisited with such gusto, such enthusiasm, that this makes no difference, and everything sounds new, fresh, and...well, groundbreaking.
Psychedelic Pill is the work of a band not so much reclaiming what they always have been, but celebrating it. And I am happy to be a part of that celebration.
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