Friday, 2 November 2012

Da's review - Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill

The Horse is back and on fine form. Having limbered up on some old tunes with Americana, the 2012 reincarnation of Neil’s rock behemoth really gets into its stride with Psychedelic Pill.

In his recent autobiography Waging Heavy Peace a drug & drink-free Neil frets about losing his muse and wondering whether these things are somehow related. Well, he needn’t have worried. Whatever it was, the muse has returned, with a fine batch of new songs (and one old one).

The double CD offering (triple vinyl) opens in an almost wistful mood (not unlike – in feel – Ambulance Blues) with an acoustic introduction to the near 28-minute Driftin’ Back. Very soon though we hear the familiar sound of The Horse in full on electric mode, with feedback-drenched guitars and Ralph Molina’s sloppy-but-somehow-right drumming. The song resembles a musical journey over the same ground as Waging Heavy Peace; a sort of meditation on things past, present and future. The lilting melody and sometimes playful lyrics (“Gonna get a hip hop haircut” – can’t wait for that Neil!) add up to an excellent return to form.

The title track which follows is drenched in psychedelic 60’s phasing and tells the tale of a good time girl on the razzle.

Ramada Inn is quintessential Crazy Horse. The story is of a couple travelling south to visit old friends, staying overnight in a seedy hotel and hitting the bottle. A haunting tale of love and the drudgery of sameness; the refrain is “She loves him so, she does what she has to; He loves her so, he does what he needs to”. Just once in the middle of the song the roles are reversed.

CD 1 finishes with the upbeat Born In Ontario. The liner note for this song says “When where you are from keeps returning to you it may be time to go back” something Neil mentioned in his autobiography. It seems he has a hankering to go back ‘home’.

CD 2 opens with the jaunty Twisted Road, a homage to the music which has inspired Neil and a few million others over the years. So we hear about the “first time I heard Like A Rolling Stone, I felt that magic and I took it home”. The Grateful Dead and Roy Orbison also feature.

Neil’s back catalogue is peppered with references to dancing (Dance, Dance, Dance; When You Dance I Can Really Love; We Never Danced; Harvest Moon; Hangin’ On A Limb plus several others). So not unsurprisingly, next up is She’s Always Dancing. This is possibly the lightest track on the album but grows with each listen. The Horse’s backing vocals are particularly affecting. The song describes what appears to be a hippy chick letting her hair down, “out on the edge, that’s where she lives”.

For The Love Of Man was recorded in the 1980’s but was never released at the time. Neil first performed the song live in August 2012 and has only played it 4 times in total. It is a very personal song about his quadriplegic son Ben and is one of the most moving songs Neil has ever written. In bootleg form the song has appeared with the title “I Wonder Why” as Neil ponders the unanswerable question, but ultimately finds the strength to respond “I know it’s alright”.

The album proper closes with Walk Like A Giant, an electric workout, just over 16mins long, for the untiring Horse. The story is about the loss of youthful idealism and the writer’s wish to “Walk like a giant on the land” like he used to – now he feels “like a leaf floating in a stream”. Backing vocals from Frank, Billy & Ralph incorporate the “Walk, walk” refrain used in the Shocking Pinks version of 1969’s Wonderin’ (a song debuted at the Woodstock festival).

In his usual perverse fashion Neil includes as a bonus track an alternative mix of Psychedelic Pill. Another new song would have been nice, but hey who cares?

Certainly a return to form, the only things missing from this album are the fire-in-the-belly approach of David Briggs and the love and support of L A Johnson and Ben Keith. But it would be ungracious to quibble about past (ragged) glories. This is a fine set of songs played by a band clearly having a ball.

In 1974’s The Old Homestead someone called ‘the shadow’ asked “Why do you ride that crazy horse?” – well, one listen to Psychedelic Pill will surely provide the answer.


  1. Lovely, detailed review (though I think "Ralf" is "Ralph" - unless he's gone all aristo!)