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CD Reviews | Style & Culture

CD Review: Neil Young, ‘Psychedelic Pill’

Legendary rocker bounces back from 2010 album slump

I would like to apologize to Neil Young.

On Oct. 21, 2010, my first article for The Maine Campus was published: a less-than-flattering review of Young’s album, “Le Noise.” I am a huge Young fan, so it hurt to write something about him that wasn’t outright praise, but the album was, in my eyes, a huge step back and possibly the beginning of the end for the legend.

One of the most scathing things I wrote was about the song “Angry World,” when I said, “Then it falls back into the whirring, hazy guitar routine prominent through most of the CD, sounding like a bad Pearl Jam outtake.”

Then, I called “Hitchhiker” “another piece in the puzzle, failing to apex to a moving chorus, or even to anything worth listening to.”

Lastly, about “Love and War,” I wrote, “The seven-plus-minute song could and should have been cut to a solid four-minute song, but in its current form, it tends to drag on and get old quickly, much like the rest of this album.”

The album had me disenchanted with Young for a bit … until I went back and listened to his “Harvest” and “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” albums. When I first heard about “Psychedelic Pill,” there were a few early signs that this time around, Young would be on the very top of his game.

Young reunited with his backing band Crazy Horse, with whom he recorded some of his best records, like “Everybody Knows” and “Ragged Glory.” This means a return to an old standby and shying away from experimentalism, something I love but also something that didn’t pan out on “Le Noise.”

At the same time, two of the tracks are over 16 minutes long with another clocking in at almost a half hour. The three songs are the longest he’s ever recorded, so he’s certainly trying something new, but in the vein of his exceptional longer jams like “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl in The Sand.”

When the album was made available for streaming about a week ahead of its Oct. 30 release, I did the virtual version of sprinting to his website, where all of my doubts about Young and his newest album were eradicated from the face of the planet.

This album is awesome.

As I wrote in my column a couple weeks ago, some songs are long for the sake of being long, like length is some sort of achievement. My first taste of the album was on Oct. 9, when the track “Ramada Inn” was uploaded in full to YouTube, and again, as I wrote in my column, the 16-minute epic “reaffirms my belief in long-form music.”

While Young’s idiosyncratic voice is about as powerful as it’s ever been, the real focus is how tight and perfect he and Crazy Horse sound, as though they actually recorded together more recently than the sessions for the 2003 album “Greendale.” Well, they have: Young recorded “Americana,” a cover album of traditional songs, earlier this year. But this is the first time they’ve written original material together since 2003, and this is a bold statement, but it’s possible that “Psychedelic Pill” is their best collaboration.

The 27-minute “Driftin’ Back” serves as a sort of gatekeeper for the album leading things off. Its length should scare away those who won’t be able to handle it while thoroughly satisfying those who dare to enter. It’s a tribute to every time I listen to a song of his and think, “I wish this would last forever.” Young responded, “How’s a half hour grab you?”

It grabs me like few things have before.

The long songs will probably receive the most press, but this isn’t just a jam album. “Born in Ontario” and “Twisted Road” are among his best conventional length rock songs. The former pays tribute to Young’s Canadian roots in a catchy, country rock framework while the latter is an homage to Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead, the influence of both of whom is made clear on this record.

So Neil Young, I’m sorry for previously writing that you are washed up. “Psychedelic Pill” proves not only that you’re not even close to done but also that you’re at your best since the 1971 album, “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.” For that, you earn the highest grade I’ve ever given an album in this paper.

Grade: A+