Neil Young’s second record of the year with Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill, is an excellent piece of work. With some slightly more astute editing, this long-awaited album might well rank with the best Young’s ever done. A collection of traditionals and covers, the previous 2012 release, Americana, is permeated with a ramshackle charm that’s in marked contrast to the studied approach of its successor. Still, this record of original material has, as its foundation, the natural chemistry between Young with his beloved backing band.
As such, Psychedelic Pill begins somewhat unusually, with Neil Young alone, casually strumming an acoustic guitar on “Driftin’ Back,” seeming to slip into a daydream for which the extended instrumental passages with The Horse act as a soundtrack. This near half-hour opening cut alternates the insertion of the refrain in the title and apparently random recollections with the floating, soaring and swooping sounds of electric guitars from Young and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro over the gigantic heartbeat of Billy Talbot’s bass and Ralph Molina’s drums.
Still, the rhythm section doesn’t swing as usual and there’s a paucity of the corrosive lead guitar Young loves, though this may well be the sound of the quartet as it’s evolved. As is usually the case with a Neil Young album, however, the lyrics to all the songs are included in the accompanying booklet: the pithy couplets that accompany each song title, such as "Ramada Inn," may suffice needs to evoke a mood to be amplified by the foursome’s improvisations.
Though the methodology is a bit obvious, Psychedelic Pill’s continuity actually derives from the insertion of shorter cuts amidst the longer ones. It’s as if abbreviated numbers like “Born in Ontario” represent moments of clarity prior to more dream-like ruminations on the past and the future. The sum effect of this collection of songs thus becomes readily apparent—even though some slightly modified production would’ve rendered its effect even more potent.
Instead of being adorned with pump organ and string machine, for instance, “For the Love of Man” might’ve been arranged with mere acoustic guitars and harmony vocals (of which there’s a marked shortage here) to make it of a piece with the rest of the album (and Young’s oeuvre in general). Or perhaps it might’ve been included as a bonus track instead of an alternate version of the title song, which, tacked on to the end of the album, ruins the finality of that moment.
Walk Like A Giant" otherwise concludes Psychedelic Pill as it memorably as began, Neil Young and Crazy Horse raging together, in a valiant –and largely successful –attempt to rekindle a fire of inspiration the likes of which the Canadian alludes to in this concluding track, the initial flames of which he describes in "Twisted Road." Consolidated into a single CD, then, the flow of Psychedelic Pill would’ve been markedly different, decidedly superior and even more powerful than it is in this two-disc configuration.