For Neil Young, the Sixties never ended. The music, memories and changes haunt his best songs and records like bittersweet perfume: vital, endlessly renewing inspirations that are also constant, enraging reminders of promises broken and ideals betrayed. In “Twisted Road,” one of eight new songs sprawled across this turbulent two-CD set, Young recalls, in a brilliantly mixed metaphor, the first time he heard Bob Dylan‘s “Like a Rolling Stone”: “Poetry rolling offhis tongue/Like Hank Williams chewing bubble gum.” And Young tells you what he did with the impact. “I felt that magic and took it home/Gave it a twist and made it mine,” he sings over Crazy Horse’s rough-country swagger, as if the marvel of that time and his dreams are still close enough to touch.
So are the mess and his dismay. Psychedelic Pill is Young’s second album of 2012 with the Horse, his perfectly unpolished garage band of 43 years, and it has the roiling honesty and brutal exuberance of their best records together. This one opens with a special perversity: the thumping 27-minute fuzz-box trance of “Driftin’ Back.” Young, on lead guitar, spits feedback and throttles his whammy bar for long, mad stretches over rhythm guitarist Frank Sampedro’s trusty two-chord support and the rock-infantry march of bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina. Every six or so minutes, Young’s cracked yelp cuts through the tumult, spiking the flashback in the dreamy chorus with a contemporary disgust for tech-giant greed and the lousy sound of MP3s, whose shitty fidelity is “blockin’ out my anger/Blockin’ out my thoughts.”
There is, in fact, no mistaking Young’s mood. For most of its near-90 minutes, Psychedelic Pill is an infuriated trip: long tracks of barbed-guitar jamming and often surrealistic ire (“Gonna get me a hip-hop haircut,” he sneers, to no apparent sense, in “Driftin’ Back”) interrupted by short bursts of warming bliss. It is a weirdly compelling seesaw. “Psychedelic Pill” is a Day-Glo-angel twist on “Cinnamon Girl” coated, in the first of two versions here, with jet-engine-like phasing. But then comes “Ramada Inn,” 17 minutes of broiling guitars and stressed a ection in which Young examines a love that has somehow stayed alive long after the high times turned into routine and basic daily needs.
Even the sweet stuff is spiked. In the cheerful country funk of “Born in Ontario,” Young admits he writes songs “to make sense of my inner rage.” Yet he keeps finding hope in there. “Me and some of my friends/We were going to save the world. . . . But then the weather changed . . . and it breaks my heart,” Young confesses through black clouds of distortion in “Walk Like a Giant,” dogged by the mocking whistle of the Horse. A big closing chunk of the song’s 16 minutes is Young’s idea of a giant marching through ruin: thunderclap drums and hacking-cough chords. But the real end hints at rebirth: a cleansing coda of wordless acid-choir sunshine. Young may feel like the last hippie standing, but he still sounds like a guy who believes the dreaming is not done.
Listen to “Walk Like a Giant”: