Neil Young And Crazy Horse

Psychedelic Pill

"You’ve been such a great crowd standing out here in the pouring rain so we’re gonna play some more for you!" The scene is a sodden and muddy Finsbury Park, August 2001 and Neil Young And Crazy Horse have elected to break the imposed curfew and are cranking up a searing wave of feedback and howling guitars before launching into a devastating 17 minute reading of ‘Like A Hurricane’. With Crazy Horse providing a solid and ear-bleeding rhythmic wall of sound, it isn’t too long before Young lets rip with the first of a series of hypnotic lead breaks on his trusty Black Beauty before finally bringing the song to a screaming and aching end.

It’s probably this writer’s favourite memory of seeing these trusty stalwarts in action and the set has gone on to rest comfortably in the band’s enduring lore. Indeed, with performances such as this – and many others; just take your pick – the prospect of Young reuniting with Crazy Horse for their first collection of original material since 2003 is, at the very least, a tantalising one.

It’s sad to report then, that Psychedelic Pill is nothing less than a crushing disappointment as it gives way to Young’s most meandering and directionless tendencies. Whereas previous excursions, especially in a live setting, have found Young hitching his groove and extended guitar workouts to solid songs and expanding upon them, what we have here is the complete opposite as endless solos flounder on a foundation made of the sand that is the album’s weak songs.

On the one hand, the knowledge that opening track ‘Driftin’ Back’ clocks in at over 27-minutes is enough to get the Vera Lynn’s out in anticipation of a glorious six-string journey. What we get instead is some uninspired and interminable guitar playing from Young over a two-chord groove from Crazy Horse that’s occasionally interspersed with Young pausing to whinge about the deficient sound quality of MP3s and youths with hip hop haircuts (whatever the hell they are). The result sounds like a jam session that should never have left the studio from the kind of people who forever moan about things being better in their day.

Equally stretching the patience of the listener are the epic yet lacklustre ‘Walk Like A Giant’ and ‘Ramada Inn’. With both tracks clocking in at a hefty 16 minutes apiece, the realisation that either would have benefited from some hefty pruning becomes quickly apparent. It’s not the length that’s the problem – witness explorations such as the title track of Swans’ incredible release The Seer from earlier this year for evidence of how to stretch out and maintain interest throughout – but the sheer lack of diversity or interesting ideas deployed throughout.

The shorter tracks go some way to showing how the album might have been improved with stronger editorial decisions. The phased execution of the title track is a real joy, an economic and direct garage rocker that plays to the strengths of the band while the acoustic ‘For The Love Of Man’ actually benefits from Crazy Horse’s minimal input. Elsewhere, ‘Born In Ontario’ wonderfully recalls the initial pairing of Young and Crazy Horse.

With a history as long, diverse and important as Neil Young’s, the occasional failure and artistic blip is always going to happen. While it’s pity that it should come after such a long gap from playing with Crazy Horse, we’re safe in the knowledge that there’s plenty of material from their back catalogue to return to at our leisure.

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