On the Unexpected Psychedelic Pill

posted by Tom on October 31, 2012 at 5:29 pm
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This week I did a short review of Neil Young's Psychedelic Pill on NPR's All Things Considered. To check it out, click here.

When you look at Neil Young’s entire discography, a record like the just released Psychedelic Pill registers as decidedly second-tier. A two-disc studio foray with Crazy Horse, it’s destined to be compared with a raft of sharper, more rousing albums from the Young heyday, whichever heyday you like. There are flashes of brilliance in the songwriting and the playing, along with moments that are the musical equivalent of muscle-flexing. One of them is the marathon “Walk Like A Giant,” which can seem like a parody of the feedback-surfing detours of ‘90s Crazy Horse – or the too-earnest effort of old guys determined to show they can still “do it.” Whatever “it” is.

Putting together the short excerpts for the radio, I was struck by Young’s unusual situation: All he has to do is whip up a familiar verse/chorus structure, decked out with the chord progressions that he’s used since Buffalo Springfield days, and his faithful will be able to tap into what he’s saying. The sound acts as a kind of bridge -- even when he's ranting, his listeners, whose ears have been tuned by years of exposure to Rust Never Sleeps and Sleeps With Angels and all the rest, will be able to relate. That’s not a negative – somehow Young, like Dylan and very few others, has found a bandwidth that allows him to communicate effectively in the present moment, while gently tickling the memory lobes of his audience. His approach to working the myth is completely different from that of, say, Rod Stewart: It’s possible to be entirely aware of all the elements Young is rehashing and still be in awe of where he goes and how he and his crew get there. With Young and Crazy Horse, you happily take the journey even if you already know where they're going and the general route they'll follow.

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