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Review: Neil Young & Crazy Horse, ‘Psychedelic Pill’
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Psychedelic Pill” (Reprise) — Neil Young, 66, is either boring or brilliant. When he’s not playing the part of grumpy old man (straight out of an old “Saturday Night Live” sketch), which he’s done ably since he was about 30, he teeters toward brilliance. “Psychedelic Pill” — the second album this year from Young and Crazy Horse (Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank Sampedro), but the first original material with the band since 2003 (“Americana,” out in May, featured rock covers of old folk songs) — boasts a few brilliant moments amid numerous typically thundering and meandering dull diversions.
This is Young’s longest album, clocking in at about an hour and a half — and the first track, “Driftin’ Back,” is a third of that. It’s also one of two songs on the album (the other is “She’s Always Dancing”) that begins with sweet harmonies from the band, which are quickly lost within and overtaken by a crunching, Crazy Horse electric jam, as if Young is grinding out his CSNY past like a cigarette butt. For 27 minutes, the band is driftin’, back and forth, in that swaying, alternately hypnotic and patience-testing way of theirs. “Walk Like a Giant” utilizes its 16-minute length to greater effect; after Young sings about the simple, childlike fantasy of wanting to step high and hard over the landscape, the band spends the last five minutes crafting musical stomps — footsteps that fade into the distance. Dinosaur rock, indeed.
Listen closely to that song, though, and you’ll hear Young lamenting many of the failed aspirations of his generation. Lyrically, “Psychedelic Pill” is a big fat suppository of wearisome boomer whining. Young just published a memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, and this album is something of a bonus feature to that — songs about themes from the book and songs about writing the book itself. “Dreaming about the way things sound now / Write about them in my book,” Young sings in the opener, before chanting (again) about his disdain for digital music and peppering the rest of the tracks with his usual litany of complaints, including a reminder, lest we forget, that the music of the ’60s rules, man (“Twisted Road”). Only “Ramada Inn,” a powerful narrative about love’s powers of survival, avoids tipping over into self-indulgence. Otherwise, the album’s a bit of a pill.