It seems a touch obvious to label Psychedelic Pill, a two-disc manifesto of garage-rock jams and sage angst, as an indulgence. After all, has there ever been a Neil Young album that wasn't?
Reteaming with Crazy Horse, the pre- and post-grunge rock combo that he has been in and out of cahoots with for more than four decades (Psychedelic Pill is their second album together in only five months), Young unwinds a maze of luxuriant but unrefined electric strands on these eight new songs. At their core lurks tales of lost hippie dreams (an increasingly favored theme on Young albums), lost love and, to a degree, lost minds.
The latter figures into the titanic album opener, a 27-minute jam called Driftin' Back that opens as a brief acoustic meditation before quickly dissolving into an unyielding, mid-tempo thud. Lyrics, sparse and repetitive as they are, fragment into a parade of non-sequiturs ("I used to dig Picasso, I'm gonna get me a hip-hop haircut") until the sentiments take a curious turn with a rant against modern recording technology ("Don't want my MP3... blockin' out my anger, blockin' out my thoughts"). Through it all, Crazy Horse's sedated charge and the stampeding fuzz of Young's guitar work are unrelenting to the point of being minimalist.
And that's just the first song. The real fire ignites on Psychedelic Pill's second disc. She's Always Dancing initiates a saga of a free spirit with a group chorus that is sung like a chant. It leads into an accompanying electric rattle as seamlessly as the acoustic intro did to the fury of Driftin' Back. This one is a comparatively brief trip, though, at a mere 8½ minutes.
The crescendo comes with Walk Like a Giant, a remembrance of a change-the-world ideal that dates back to the '60s counterculture that gave Young and his music their start. Young holds fast to the dream, though, and energizes it with the kind of nerve-ripping guitar intensity that fortified such past Crazy Horse collaborations as Rust Never Sleeps and Broken Arrow. The guitar squeals in a squall-like frenzy before bellowing with a deep static roar.
It is in moments like these that one might wonder how this Neil Young and the frail folkie spirit that popularized Heart of Gold could be one and the same. The rampage runs on for 16 minutes, including more than four minutes devoted to a wildly dissonant coda. It's like watching a tornado continuing to uproot everything in the distance after it has torn through town.
Several briefer tunes, running four minutes or less (Born in Ontario, Twisted Road and the album's title tune) serve as interludes. But the bulk of Psychedelic Pill belongs to the unexpurgated range and rage of a rock 'n' roll original — and the Horse he rode in on.