Psychedelic Pill

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Reprise, 2012

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/18/2014

All musicians know that a good jam session is soothing to the soul. Sometimes the results turn into great songs, sometimes they burn off energy, sometimes they are good for letting loose and just playing for the sheer joy of it.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse have adhered to this philsophy ever since 1969, when "Down By The River" and "Cowgirl In The Sand" appeared on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Many great (and long) jam songs have since dotted Neil's discography, from "Cortez The Killer" and "Like A Hurricane" to the extended songs on Ragged Glory. Something about the band seems to energize Young, which is why he needs to return to them every so often.

However, this jam mentality is taken to excess on Psychedelic Pill, Neil's first double album, which comprises 86 minutes split into two CDs. The whole affair only features eight songs; four are normal length, one is eight minutes, two are around 18 minutes and the opening cut, "Driftin' Back," is 27 minutes long. I think the Sex Pistols' entire career was 27 minutes long. Even Yes didn't have songs that long.

The title gives the impression of a time capsule, but there is nothing psychedelic about this except the cover art and font. Rather, it concerns Neil examining the past, both his own and in the characters he creates, from the first time you heard a song that changed your life ("Twisted Road"), to the empty nest married couple trying to rediscover their love ("Ramada Inn"), to visiting a childhood home ("Born In Ontario"), to comparing who you used to be and what you used to dream to today's reality ("Walk Like A Giant," "Driftin' Back"). my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Lyrics like this could come off as crotchety (these kids today...) or yearning for a bygone era, but Young avoids such pitfalls, opting instead for a simple nostalgia and self-examination of the type we all do. Of the remaining songs, one is a question of faith and beauty ("For The Love Of Man") and two concern an unnamed woman with a strong inner fire who lights up the room and loves to dance; it could be someone specific Young knew, it could be any woman, it could be you.

Crazy Horse sounds great on all the tracks, even if there is nothing modern about their approach. The tracks could easily have been recorded and released in 1975. But the three extended tracks are just so long and repetitive that they kill any momentum the record gains, no matter how impressive. "Driftin' Back" has a nice acoustic intro and a great melody, not to mention a cool buildup in the chorus, but the solos just go on and on without much variety. Surely 10 minutes could have been chopped off, or even 15, to make this a killer song.

"Ramada Inn" has the same approach ,but the music helps tell the story of the couple with grown kids who heads down South to visit old friends, drink a little and rediscover the good times of their youth, but the magic fails to reappear and the husband takes to drinking: "She hardly knows him / He just looks away and checks out / WHen she says it's time to do something / Maybe talk to old friends who gave it up / He just pours another tall one, closes his eyes and says 'That's enough.'" However, the song ends on a note of hope ("They both rise into the day / Holdin' on to what they've done / She loves him so, she does what she has to / He loves her so, he does what he needs to") and the long instrumental breaks enhance the tale by giving the impression of passing time and passing miles.

"Walk Like A Giant" is another overlong jam that is just too much of a good thing, while "Born In Ontario" and "For The Love Of Man" don't really register. The title tune is a fuzzed-out good time rocker and "She's Always Dancing" is both a potent character study and a hazy melancholy jam, managing to feel hopeful even as dreams are slipping away. It's musically the best song here and proves that Young and Crazy Horse retain a supple, kinetic psyche that Neil rarely achieves on his own (at least not since Ragged Glory).

Fans of Crazy Horse, extended guitar jams and ‘70s rock will get the most out of this (and so will Pearl Jam, of course). Taken in small doses, Psychedelic Pill is a worthy addition to the Neil & Crazy Horse catalog, but it's not likely to go down as one of the overall highlights simply because the three main tracks are so damn long and repetitive and because the surrounding tracks, on average, just don't hold up to the band's best work. Not every jam needs to be released note for note; a little editing would have gone a long way here.

Rating: B-

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