I thought Neil Young was a bit lost earlier this year with Americana – and then I read his memoir where he admitted he was lost; was suffering writer’s block for the first time in his life (seemingly – let’s just not count albums like Life, Landing On Water and Old Ways).
So the new album, his second for 2012 (and it’s a double) makes sense – following the candid memoir and the covers album to loosen up as he saddled up the Horse one more time (for the first time in nearly a decade).
Opener, Driftin’ Back, will tell you if you need to hear this album or not. Hell, it’s practically an album in and of itself at over 27 minutes (no joke). In fact it’s almost every single song Neil has written in one giant medley; it’s certainly every Crazy Horse song smooshed up with a trick-intro luring you into some post-folk acoustic near-lull and then, just like cranking up a chainsaw, Neil is off, pulled around the studio by the neck of his guitar as he sticks two fingers up and down its neck and catches whatever it spills in the bucket that is this half-hour song.
Oh, let me make it clear: I love it.
Driftin’ Back will either bug you or please you no end – you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve listened to half a dozen songs, or two or three at least. And, well, who’s to say you haven’t – a title’s just a title after all.
Crazy Horse songs tend to get slapped down into a scrapbook with messy joins and you can see the paste around the edge of the image and sometimes the pages stick and if so they’re just pulled apart, wrenched in the same way that guitar solos are pulled from the neck and thrown at the wall. And that has happened here. Again. Because, why change the formula – especially when you don’t really have one.
It’s not a great Neil Young album – it’s probably not even a great Neil Young & Crazy Horse album, in that it does not compete with Zuma or Ragged Glory or any of the live albums but it is more relaxed (and enjoyable as a whole) than Greendale and it is as if the best bits of Broken Arrow and Sleeps With Angels have been sandwiched into one (sprawling-but-safe) double-disc place with some of the weaker elements of Ragged Glory providing a bit of a padding.
This is okay though because Psychedelic Pill is the best Neil Young album in a while – and the better of the two released this year. And that’s all that matters. He won’t remember this album next year. And maybe you don’t need to either. But the big songs, the epic sprawlers, all of them dangerously close to parodies of past Crazy Horse extended workouts are the keepers. Ramada Inn and Walk Like A Giant – in fact I almost think he should have really annoyed/pleased everyone by releasing it as a three-track single disc. Those two and Drifin’ Back for the world’s longest EP.