Neil Young‘s second album this year with the redoubtable Crazy Horse is the longest of his career, and as so often the case when he’s hitched up the Horse, contains several extended guitar workouts – 3 of the 4 longest tracks of his career are on Psychedelic Pill, including the 27-minute marathon “Driftin’ Back”, which opens the album. It’s clearly triggered by the writing of his autobiography Waging Heavy Peace, Young musing aimlessly on religion, art, memory and music. “Dream about the way things sounded, write about them in my book,” he sings in a brief moment of acoustic reverie, before the classic Crazy Horse grunge drifts in and covers everything, like a fine layer of dust on recollections. The album features the familiar ragged and digressive guitar extemporisations, of unusual delicacy in places – which can’t be said for the title track that follows, a short song about a girl “looking for a good time”, the whole song unaccountably awash in a huge flange effect.
Young’s reminiscences furnish three other tracks, with references to Dylan, the Dead and Roy Orbison featuring in “Twisted Road”, a genial celebration of “old-time music” set to a descending chord-sequence that apes “The Weight”. “Born in Ontario” is a simple, straightforwardly autobiographical acknowledgement of the singer’s good fortune. More impressive is the 16-minute “Walk Like a Giant”, a reflection on the fading potency of a generation that wanted to change the world for the better. “ It’s a magnificent, furious beast of a track, his spiky, spidery guitar work building to a huge, angry clangour and breaking up into splinters of pure noise.
“Ramada Inn” is the other great cornerstone of Young’s best album in some while, a lucid and tender depiction of a long-term relationship tested by alcoholism, but enduring through a firm foundation of affection: Dark chords harbour portents of tough days ahead, but this time the distortion of Young’s guitar is more like the warmth of an old worn blanket, itchy against the skin, but still comforting.