Neil Young with Crazy Horse “Psychedelic Pill” (Reprise)
When Neil Young declares in that high-lonesome warble over a folky acoustic guitar, “Hey now now, hey now now, I'm driftin' back,” he's not just whistling “Alabama.” That's the first line of “Driftin' Back,” which is the epic first song (27 minutes, 36 seconds) on the sprawling, two-disc “Psychedelic Pill,” the first album of new originals Young has recorded with the quintessential California garage band Crazy Horse in nine years.
It also seems like a declaration of his intent to return to the grungy groove and ragged glory of his early days and create an album that stands alongside his first LP with Crazy Horse, the masterful “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” (1969) and its indelible solo follow-up, “After the Gold Rush.”
The electricity kicks in and so does the entire band on the first chorus of “Driftin' Back,” becoming a mesmerizingly meandering jam as second guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro and the solid, no-frills rhythm section of bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina churn along behind Young's extended, intermittently fuzzed out, distorted and piercing guitar explorations, all reminiscent of long, classic workouts such as “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Down By the River.”
The title cut is an upbeat rocker all about a party girl lost in the search for a good time and her man's inability to snap her back to reality, with the instruments all strained through the wind-tunnel effects of a '60s-era Leslie speaker.
Then there's the moody 16-minute-plus rock 'n' roll regret of “Ramada Inn,” Young wailing above the din about “things going south” between two jaded lovers who've sought affection elsewhere but still struggle to stay together. “He loves her so,” Young keeps repeating mournfully, and the conflicting emotions are underscored by crashing cymbals and blaring guitars.
“Born in Ontario” is strutting and twangy “Harvest”-style country-rock, “Twisted Road” is a jaunty, mid-tempo tribute to Young's old-time influences (including Dylan, Orbison and a couple of others), “She's Always Dancing” sounds like an emotionally burning moment that could have come from Young's cantankerous “Rust Never Sleeps” period, “For the Love of Man” is a beautiful spiritual from bohemian heaven, and “Walk Like a Giant” lives up to its title, with its roiling, 16-minute guitar tirade, words of defiance, and whistling that embeds itself in the consciousness like the marching theme from “Bridge Over the River Kwai.”
“Psychedelic Pill” more than makes up for the disappointing “Americana,” the Young/Horse reunion album of folk song covers that released just last June.
Still the angry rebel and idiosyncratic artist who hasn't abandoned the hippie dream, Young returns to form with his favorite backing band and the best record he's done in decades.
— Gene Triplett