Sunday, November 4, 2012

Psychedelic Pill

Sometime in 2006, just after Neil Young released Living With War, I cranked up his song The Restless Consumer. The whole house was rocking to this most excellent tune. Then, splat! Silence. I had totally blown-out my Sony receiver with the volume so loud. Since then I have replaced it with a Pioneer Amp that can handle the load. You see, when Neil Young is rocking - especially with Crazy Horse - things need to be not just turned up but very, very loud. So it is with Neil and Crazy Horse's second album of 2012, Psychedelic Pill. 

Neil turns 67 this month. In a time when, with few exceptions, musical artists have already wound-down their careers, perhaps putting out their greatest hits or a stray album now and then, Neil is going strong. His latest release is with long-time (since 1969) musical ally Crazy Horse, a double CD set. This is his ninth release of new, original music in the 21st century. He has produced 37 new, mostly studio, albums since he first went solo in 1968.  (This does not count all his albums with other bands such as Buffalo Springfield and CSNY.  Nor does it count almost a dozen albums he has recorded and, for various reasons, never released.  That material is mostly available on bootlegs of live performances.)

Psychedelic Pill follows a "cover album" earlier this year, the publication of his autobiography last month, and numerous other personal projects, particularly involving LincVolt and Pono, both of which I have mentioned before. Neil does not seem to be slowing down as he enters what is traditionally considered old-age. Not far from being 70. If anything, he is producing more music and pursuing his diverse personal interests with more gusto than ever before.

Neil has been a frequent subject throughout this blog. He is my favorite living musical artist and certainly one of the exceptional rockers of the last 50 years. With Psychedelic Pill he has produced his strongest classic rock achievement since Chrome Dreams II (2007) and, more distantly, Ragged Glory (1990). His musical roots with Crazy Horse, affectionately considered "the world's greatest garage band," resonate in almost everything about this remarkably strong double-CD set. This is fresh, authentic classic rock in the Now.

Psychedelic Pill has received mostly positive reviews and, based on sales, it is number one in both the classic rock music category and main rock category and number two in overall pop music on 
as of this post. This is with good reason. The album kicks ass in the traditional Neil Young Old Black mode. Crazy Horse is the solid backbone for Old Black to ramble around in. Awesome musical sound very well played.

Neil's solo guitar work on Old Black, stitched through several of the tracks, takes up almost an hour on this double-CD set's 88-plus minutes worth of music. The album begins with a 27-minute track called Drifting Back that is a fine slow, even meditative, rocker; numerous extended five or six-minute groves of solo guitar rocking with a good beat.

Spread through the two CDs also are two 16-minute jam songs, Ramada Inn and Walk Like A Giant. Both are solid tunes though I prefer the later song, the more up-beat of the two.  These three songs are the great pillars of Psychedelic Pill, featuring lots and lots of Old Black. Just a terrific classic Horse sound - and so generous on this massive album.

There are shorter tracks in the package as well. Born In Ontario is a catchy country/folk song that features Neil on a different electric guitar accompanying himself (via a separate studio track) on the foot-pump organ he has performed on since After The Gold Rush. They sound great together. Twisted Road and For The Love of Man are probably the weakest efforts on the album but they are not bad tunes at all and they offer a nice change to the extended rock guitar sessions. They help make the mix.

The best two songs on the album are She's Always Dancing and the title track, Psychedelic Pill. There are some cool studio effects in the "original mix" of the second song, the mix you hear first on the album. Neil includes an "alternate" mix which is really the song without any studio mixing effects, in it's pristine form, concluding the album. This song is solidly comparable to Neil's classic Cinnamon Girl make no mistake about it. Neil can still do some serious, fast rocking.

She's Always Dancing is the best track on the set. It clocks in at 8 and a half minutes. It is in the fashion of Like A Hurricane, maybe just a bit slower, but definitely of that caliber. I'd say it is Neil's best song since 2007's No Hidden Path, which ran over 23 minutes. Old Black shines proudly and deftly. I am listening to this one tune a lot these days as I first acquaint myself with this album. I often take a week or more to fully get into all the aspects of a new Neil Young release. Sometimes, years later, I'll hear something I've forgotten and go "Oh. Wow..." This song sent me into a musical stratosphere of its own.

As I said, most of the reviews for Psychedelic Pill are favorable. Initial sales are very strong. This album has some force, you might hear it or of it out there in the mainline of music. Here's a sampling of reviews I particularly enjoyed for various reasons while first listening to the album...

Slate: "Loops and lurches, guttural conversations with his amp; noise-collapses; gorgeous isolate notes, dragged and spangled across the clumsy-beautiful phrasings of Crazy Horse; frazzled wisdom in a palace of reverb; he sounds amazing."

The Washington Post: “Sprawling barely begins to describe Psychedelic Pill....The sonics range from small and intimate to over-amped and awash in feedback.”
National Public Radio: “... the best moments of this uneven set find him immersed in sharing what he's been thinking about lately, his complex emotional landscape.”

Rolling Stone: "For most of its near-90 minutes, Psychedelic Pill is an infuriated trip: long tracks of barbed-guitar jamming and often surrealistic ire interrupted by short bursts of warming bliss. It is a weirdly compelling seesaw."

The Chicago Tribune: "Like the blues, the albums Young makes with Crazy Horse have almost become a genre unto themselves....Crazy Horse lurches in a tar pit of noise and rumbling bass tones, Young’s guitar shrieking like a trapped beast, right down to the extended final groan of amplifier exhaust."

The New Yorker: "The last minute dissolves into a collage of clanging percussion, industrial-strength guitars, and wordless harmonies, a fitting microcosm of the power and the sense of community at the core of this protean, exhausting, energizing record."

Rhapsody: "Psychedelic Pill just might be Young's best since Rust Never Sleeps, though such superlatives are, of course, always debatable."

The Neil Young Old Black sound is my favorite version of Neil's many magnificent manifestations. There's more of Neil and Old Black on Psychedelic Pill than anything else other than Crazy Horse providing the bedrock for it all. The songs are generally very strong and the overall mix is good. It is all the more interesting when you understand his excellence was produced after a period of personal worry. He went months without being able to write a single line of music. For medical reasons he decided to stop smoking dope and drinking alcohol.  He suffered prolonged writer's block. Psychedelic Pill is a break-through for him, the first album of original music Neil has ever released which he recorded totally sober.

Which means that Neil can alter his consciousness but he can't alter his true creative self, though he can send it into hiding for a time.  Neil is still his unique musical self, as good as ever, in the different perspective of sobriety. This music is turbo-charged, conceived out of anxiety into deep thought and talented performance; an absolutely amazing and inspiring record.

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