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Neil Young has never really given a hoot about polish. And if his first-thought-best-thought, flamethrower approach to creation has occasionally resulted in works of uneven quality, it has also spawned some of his very best—Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Tonight’s the Night, and Zuma among them. And no stance is a gesture of artistic courage that’s appallingly absent among musicians in the multimedia age.
Young’s latest, Psychedelic Pill, is a ferociously stubborn assertion that he has no intent to waver from his commitment to feeling, art, or for that matter, artlessness if that’s what moves him. Young’s fellow soul barbarians Crazy Horse are along for the ride again, and the crackling, electric racket they create on Psychedelic Pill is deliriously sprawling, fractured, patina’d, and at times tectonically powerful. Sonically speaking, the template is little different from the recipe the band concocted around the time of Rust Never Sleeps—chugging, mid-tempo, hazy, and distorted jams that shift and drift around Young’s queasy Bigsby cries and drummer Ralph Molina’s rather subjective notions of time.
Psychedelic Pill’s finest moments are when that formula is taken to extremes. The three finest tracks are the longest, and at 27:37, 16:50, and 16:29 minutes respectively, “Driftin’ Back,” “Ramada Inn,” and “Walk Like a Giant” are minor key, melancholy fever dreams that alternately explode and meander around Young’s boundless, stream-of-consciousness leads. The latter ends with about three minutes of Neil and Crazy Horse approximating the thunder of a giant’s plodding steps. If there were any justice, it would find saccharine pop’s most shameless peddlers looking over their shoulders and considering their imminent doom. —Charles Saufley
Must-hear track: “Walk Like a Giant”