This is plain and simple, my friends. The 30th October saw the release of what is, in my opinion, the most impressive garage rock album of the year.
Who released this album, I hear you ask. Which bright young band, most likely from middle-America, wielding battered instruments and a fatal sense of ambition has had the guts to put out such a record?
Hmm, perhaps not. This title belongs to a band fronted by a man about to turn sixty-seven, who hails from Western Canada, has released thirty-seven studio albums and seems to be one of the only people in the world who actually remembers how to record a garage album.
Who could it be, other than the wonderfully erratic Neil Young and sometimes comrades Crazy Horse? We all know, of course, that Young is nothing short of renowned for his characteristic brand of garage rock, so not only is he its future, but its past and present too.
Psychedelic Pill is an album to get really excited about. Not only is it Neil Young’s first release of original material with Crazy Horse since 2003, but it’s also damn good.
These days, people are often sceptical when they hear that ol’ Shakey is planning to release a new album, and it’s fair enough, really. Probably another collection of songs about an eco-friendly car, they grumble, because as we know all too well, Neil just loves to follow that muse.
Whilst it’s a great album, it’s certainly not one for the faint-hearted. It’s just under an hour and a half long, and three tracks are over the fifteen-minute mark. It’s an album that sounds like it’s straight from 1969, full of rambling guitar solos, scattered lyrics, and the thought process of someone possibly inebriated.
Once you’ve made it through the opening track Driftin’ Back, which clocks in at a, eh, mere twenty-seven minutes, the longest song of Young’s career, you’re undoubtedly starting to imagine being surrounded by paisley wallpaper and shag-pile carpet. This is possibly one of the most bizarre songs of his career, and probably also the most incoherent, as Young somehow managers to deliver his lyrics with execution similar to the Joycean stream of conciousness.
The musicianship on Psychedelic Pill is exactly as you’d expect; Ol’ Black rumbling into life with her characteristically menacing roar, accompanied by crazed distortion and heavy feedback, whilst rhythm guitarist Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro is busy doing what he does best; layering few more than three chords earnestly over the harsh cavalry march created by the rhythm section; Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina.
Whilst a lot of people are criticising this album for being too nostalgic, I’m actually beginning to feel like it’s the opposite. Yes, its overall sound is reminiscent of the late sixties, but it doesn’t feel particularly dated. The title track could quite easily have been a feature on Trans, had it been written in 1982, and don’t kick off, okay, but I’m going to be brave and just throw it out there; I really love Trans!
The tone is also far more erratic than earlier works; concept album, this most certainly is not. Neil’s mood jumps from a dreamy wistfulness to plain pissed off; he’s pissed off about the sound quality (or lack thereof) that we settle for with MP3, he’s pissed off about drugs, he’s pissed off about Picasso’s designs being used as wallpaper… But alas his main qualm, as ever, is the failure of his generation to save the world as they so unduly promised.
This isn’t to say that it’s a gloomy record in any way; in fact, it seems to be mostly sanguine, certainly nowhere near as dark as his offerings from The Ditch Trilogy. Young creates the impression of a man looking forwards; perhaps the decision to stop smoking marijuana after all these years has opened up a whole new world of direction and clarity for him. In fact, Ramada Inn almost touches that subject. It’s a hauntingly beautiful tale of a couple who, after all the ups and downs of their long marriage—substance abuse, for one—still manage to find solace in each other, and a reason to stay together.
Throughout the record, Neil doesn’t actually articulate a great deal, but the question is, does he really need to? Whether it’s to your tastes or not, this is a guitar record, and I sometimes feel that instruments are all you really need to tell your story. The wails you hear from Ol’ Black; the way he manipulates her sound, making her weep, chuckle or sulk, this is precisely what he wants to achieve. Neil Young has an utterly unique way of making a guitar say all that needs to be said, particularly Ol’ Black, and sometimes the best way to understand what he’s trying to say, is simply to take a closer listen to her.
Maybe one day soon Neil’s gonna go for that hip-hop haircut.
Photo of Neil Young © Markus Schreiber/Associated Press.
Disturbing image Photoshopped by, eh, me, unfortunately. I feel ashamed, but let’s just put this down to the fact that I’m after taking loads of painkillers…