There is a portion in Neil Young’s transcendent book Waging Heavy Peace that finds the rocker describing how he can “go places” with Crazy Horse. On their latest album, Psychedelic Pill, the listener gets to go places too.
Young’s book is filled with lots of “anyways;” his thoughts come out in torrents, gushers really, and there’s no stopping him. When he gets something in his mind, he wants to go there. He’s willing to stretch out and take his time, even if things like rock and roll and thought and 50 shades of fucking book-writing don’t seem to accommodate that sort of thing much anymore.
Luckily for us, young or old or in between, Psychedelic Pill proves there’s still room in rock for stretching out and for turning up those amplifiers for long jams that go nowhere and everywhere all at once.
The record is split into two discs and comes armed to the teeth with everything Young (guitar, vocal, pump organ, stringman, whistling), Poncho Sampredo (guitar, vocal), Billy Talbot (bass, vocal), and Ralph Molina (drums, vocal) do so well.
The first piece, “Driftin’ Back,” seems to have these things in mind. “Dreamin’ bout the way things sound now,” Young sings, “Write about them in my book.” The line kicks off a nearly half-hour song that forms on a lot of repetition, fluid jams and Picasso as wallpaper. Old Black, that 1952 Les Paul that Young acquired in a trade with Jimmy Messina, grazes its way through riff after riff of sky-reaching grandeur.
The Horse ploughs through too, doing more than crunching the scenery. They are a suitably, wonderfully messy band. Indolent strokes of guitar, half-eaten snares and tumbling bass lines speckle Psychedelic Pill with realism. Things are neatened up, but Young’s insistence on good sound keeps the recording beautiful.
Another epic, “Ramada Inn,” is over 16 minutes. It’s a lovely song, one that holds reminders “of the long grade.” Molina’s careful pace sets the foundation for Crazy Horse to run slowly and simply through, while the band’s harmonies are sublime.
“Born in Ontario” is more than a song about where Young was from; it’s a song about where he feels he must return. Featuring a great mix of harmonies and some rather buoyant pump organ, the ditty is a honky-tonk crowdpleaser.
The second disc commences with “Twisted Road,” another song about memories and friends. Like “Born in Ontario,” the piece presents the past as something dynamic. Young doesn’t lament the remembrances and he has no intention of stopping dreaming. He means to “let the good times roll.”
Psychedelic Pill closes with the soaring slab of earth that is “Walk Like a Giant.” This one runs over 16 minutes and pulses with grooves and blistered, scruffy guitars. The whistles punch the clouds of feedback, while Young’s anger boils into heartbreak and yields rays of hope. “I want to walk like a giant,” he barks over a wall of sound.
In closing off a brief Waging Heavy Peace chapter that talks of regret and original Crazy Horse guitarist and vocalist Danny Whitten, Young ends by noting that he’s “not interested in form for form’s sake.” He then exhorts the reader to give the book to someone else if they are having trouble reading it.
That Neil Young is the same Neil Young behind this Psychedelic Pill, a record that is as amorphous as he wants it to be and as wild and free as the Horse will run. Its long jams and sinuous textures may trouble those used to pre-chewed popular music, but that spirit of open roads and a past that refuses to let go is everywhere.