Photo courtesy of Warner Music Canada
`Twas ever thus. When Neil Young gets together with his longtime collaborators in Crazy Horse, a separate esthetic takes over ? one very different from Young?s projects with other players. The songs quickly take a back seat to what Young sees as the groove, and simple musical ideas often get stretched out beyond their logical lifespan while Young just hammers away at his guitar.
The combination has occasionally worked marvelously, producing hall-of-fame moments like the electric half of Rust Never Sleeps and the overlooked classic Sleeps With Angels. But mostly, Crazy Horse has served as a vehicle for Young?s most self-indulgent tendencies.
Psychedelic Pill, unfortunately, will take its place with the endurance tests in the Young/ Horse catalogue. It comes as a disappointment, given that their earlier collaboration this year, Americana, was a delight: a fascinating, raunchy makeover of American ?folk standards. But the almost one-hour Americana was, it seems, merely Young and the Horse clearing their throat for this 88-minute double disc of original material ? their first in almost 10 years.
The first sign of trouble comes with the opening track. At 28 minutes, Driftin? Back is about 23 minutes too long, with Neil mostly soloing over two chords, breaking in here and there to rant about the terrible quality of MP3s or threaten to get a hip-hop haircut.
It?s one thing for musical explorers like MIles Davis, Frank Zappa or the Grateful Dead to go on for almost a half hour, but when you have a drummer (the ever-plodding Ralph Molina) who struggles to keep time and pounds away witlessly while the boss explores two or three chords and the seemingly limitless pleasures of sustained feedback, it can be rough going.
Two patience-testing tracks, Ramada Inn and Walk Like a GIant, clock in at 16 minutes apiece. On the latter, Young takes more than four minutes to end the song, with a mixture of thuds and noise. In the time it takes for Young to wind down, you can listen to Strawberry Fields Forever.
The hope of bliss is generally audible. The clunker She?s Always Dancing, for example, gets tantalizingly close to the heights of LIke a Hurricane for a few moments of its relatively economical eight and a half minutes. But it soon sinks in some sludgy Crazy Horse quicksand.
The shorter pieces are far more successful, and an album of those might have been a real pleasure. The title track ? anchored by the same chord riff Young used for Sign of Love on the superb Le Noise ? has a psychedelic charm (look out for all that phasing and panning), Born in Ontario is downright catchy and Twisted Road has a ragged hayseed strut that recalls Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Best of all is For the Love of Man, a tuneful, acoustic beauty that actually sounds like Crazy Horse were on a coffee break.
Only a few of Young?s contemporaries remain as prolific, interesting and vital. But the downside of brilliance must, alas, always be a willingness to risk and fail.
Rating: ** and 1/2
Podworthy: For the Love of Man
Neil Young and Crazy Horse perform Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Bell Centre. Support acts are the Sadies and Patti Smith. Tickets cost $68, $88, $98, $118 and $201. Phone 514-790-2525 or go to evenko.ca.
Psychedelic Pill will be available Oct. 30. Here?s the video for Twisted Road.
And click here to sign up on Young?s Web site for a free streamed version of the whole album.