At the age of 66, Canadian singer-songwriter and activist Neil Young once again joins forces with Crazy Horse, an American rock band most well-known for their previous collaborative efforts with Young, to release Psychedelic Pill, a musical personification of the free-spirited nature of the 1960s.
Young’s working relationship with Crazy Horse started in 1969 with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and most recently included Americana, after its release earlier this year. However, despite the vast catalogue he has amassed over the last 40 years, Psychedelic Pill is allowed to stand out as the longest album Young has ever released, as well as his first two-disc album.
Ever since he released his first album in 1968, Neil Young has ascended to the tier of songwriting giants, supporting this status with 37 studio albums, a Grammy award, and two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, both as a solo artist and as a member of Buffalo Springfield. Along with these awards, Young has been appointed to the Order of Manitoba, Manitoba’s highest civilian honor, and to the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor, in 2006 and 2009 respectively.
He has coupled this fame and success with strong humanitarian endeavors, such as establishing Farm Aid, a benefit concert held to raise money for family farmers, and The Bridge School, a school for children with physical impairments and complex communication needs.
After achieving in only some of his life what it would take most people multiple lifetimes to accomplish, Young still insists on pushing forward his career with Psychedelic Pill, an endeavor reminiscent of the music of the 1960s while still maintaining an approach fresh enough to be a unique addition to his repertoire.
Introduced by the 27-minute behemoth “Driftin’ Back,” this is one of three apparently long-winded tracks on the album, with the 17-minute “Ramada Inn” and the 16-minute “Walk Like Giants” comprising other significant portions.
Despite the amount of time these three songs consume, they fail to truly contribute to the progression of the album, as the few lyrics to be found within, despite their careful crafting and weighted depth, are lost among Neil Young’s fuzzy lead guitar, guiding Crazy Horse in an exhausting jam session with a slight hard-rock edge provided by his backing band.
While these songs don’t contribute to an overwhelming message, they establish the sort of psychedelic atmosphere Young hoped to structure his album around, allowing for the energy, as well as the consciousness of the ’60s to have a sort of rebirth, which he then uses to amplify the effects of the other songs on the album. This is first seen on the title track, “Psychedelic Pill,” telling the story of a carefree girl and the effects she has on Young, made accessible by the atmosphere generated in the spacious vocals and raucous guitars, as the chaotic drumming keeps the energy pounding in the listener’s ear. Young’s unique, alto voice reaffirms the song’s message, with the repetition of the line, “She’s looking for a good time.”
Young then pays homage to his home-province, with “Born in Ontario,” a tame track with a sort of rockabilly feel, emphasized by backing harmonies and Young’s claw-hammer style of guitar playing, creating the perfect backdrop for his honest recitation of “I was born in Ontario,” revealing a great amount of pride for his home with lines such as, “I was born in Ontario / Where the black fly bites and the green grass grows / That’s where I learned mostly what I know / ‘cause you don’t learn much, when you start to get old.”
Another standout on the album, “Twisted Road,” brings forth a nostalgic look back at his life, highlighting memories such as his first time listening to the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” the effects of which are conveyed with the lines, “First time I heard ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ / I felt that magic and took it home.” His fondness for this period of his life can be inferred from the lines, “Let the good times roll” which he repeatedly sings, with his backing band reinforcing this sentiment with their traditional country harmonies.
While it might not be the standout album of his career, Young harnesses the essence of country and rock, folk and blues to create a unique and honest album in Psychedelic Pill. Despite some overdone jam sessions taking away from the punch of the album, Crazy Horse once again provides a fresh edge to Young’s timeless style, allowing him to foray into new territory while staying mindful of past endeavors, and most importantly, staying relevant for a new generation.
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