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Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012

Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Psychedelic Pill (Reprise)

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There is pensive wandering into the past on this massive collection of songs, moving smoothly through two discs in the CD version. Neil Young’s artistry is at its height. “Twisted Road” contains revelatory lines that capture hearing Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” for the first time: “Poetry rolling off his tongue/Like Hank Williams chewing bubble gum.” Young then goes on with “I felt that magic and took it home/Gave it a twist and made it mine.” With opening references to Picasso in “Driftin’ Back,” Young develops interwoven narrative entries that describe his artistic process, which has always mirrored the fractured visuals of a Picasso with the message content framed by the influence of Dylan that changed everyone’s goal in rock music, including Young’s, from that of mere entertainer to articulate soothsayer.

Psychedelic Pill is of epic proportion and a pinnacle for Young. The nostalgia of “Driftin’ Back”—and of all the songs on this close to 90-minute album—is not merely pining for something lost, but raging at it. Picasso gets turned into “wallpaper” and Young maddeningly says that he is going to get “a hip-hop haircut.” Raving against the poor fidelity of MP3s, Young sadly but with a viper’s tongue hisses that inferior sound today is “blockin’ out my anger/Blockin’ out my thoughts.” None of this is easy listening or trivial. All is dispatched within huge mounds of sound that cross the boundaries between linear narratives and, sans easily memorable hooks, tunes that assault the listener’s desire for musical resolution.

The songs on Psychedelic Pill are not coming from the last ’60s rock artist still dreaming, but from one who is fearlessly waking up to a nightmare of modernity and self-revelation. “Seems like lately things are going south,” from “Ramada Inn,” rivals the title track’s “Every move is like a psychedelic pill from a doctor I can’t find.” We have entered an altered state, but from where? How did we get to where we are?

The answers are in controlled feedback and guitars that, like the lyrics, speak in sharply curved images. The listener has to hang on or be thrown to the side. There is no easy way forward and there’s no way back. The present is for rebirth, but we can’t hear its possibility anymore. Again, from “Ramada Inn”: “And every mornin’ comes the sun.” It is about survival.