Music Reviews
11:03 am
Tue October 30, 2012

Neil Young Still Vital On 'Psychedelic Pill'

Originally published on Wed October 31, 2012 9:51 am

What explains the continued relevance of Neil Young? It's not simply that he wrote great songs decades ago. Not just that fragile voice. One thing that's always set him apart is creative restlessness: Since the early 1970s, he's been a moving target, putting out earnest acoustic confessionals followed by quirky experiments followed by the visceral, savage rock that inspired Nirvana and many others. It's that electric approach that yields the most vital music on Psychedelic Pill.

Young has been doing a lot of looking back lately. To go along with his memoir, he's written a few nostalgic and even-more-sentimental-than-usual songs. Stark, odd confessions like "Driftin' Back," which opens Psychedelic Pill. You'll notice that in the very first verse, he does a crafty bit of cross-promotion for his book.

When a rock star reaches memoir-writing age, his or her most impactful music is usually a flyspeck in the rearview mirror. The primary activity becomes working/reselling the myth. That's not the case with Neil Young. Sure, he recycles stuff — some of the melodies and chord sequences echo songs he wrote decades ago. But the best moments of this uneven set find him immersed in sharing what he's been thinking about lately, his complex emotional landscape.

Of course, Neil Young has help: Whenever things get too cozy, Crazy Horse is there to rearrange the furniture. These longtime collaborators won't let their leader rest on any laurels. When the singing stops and Young falls into one of the band's epic guitar journeys, the music positively erupts.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's been a busy six months for Neil Young. The 66-year-old singer/songwriter has released a cover album, a memoir, and today a two-disc album with longtime band Crazy Horse. It's called "Psychedelic Pill."

Music critic Tom Moon has our review.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOM MOON BYLINE: What explains the continued relevance of Neil Young? It's not simply that he wrote a bunch of great songs decades ago. It's not just that fragile voice either. One thing that's always set him apart is creative restlessness. Since the early 1970s, he's been a moving target, putting out earnest acoustic confessionals followed by quirky experiments, followed by the visceral, savage rock that inspired Nirvana and many others. It's that electric approach that yields the most vital music on "Psychedelic Pill."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK LIKE A GIANT")

NEIL YOUNG: (Singing) Then we skipped the rails, and we started to fail. And we folded up and it's not enough. Think about how close we came. I wanna walk like a giant on the land. I wanna walk like a giant on the land.

BYLINE: Neil Young has been doing a lot of looking back lately. To go along with his memoir, he's written a few nostalgic songs that are even more sentimental than usual. Stark, odd meditations like this one, which opens the album. You'll notice that in the very first verse, he does a crafty bit of cross-promotion for his book.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRIFTIN' BACK")

YOUNG: (Singing) Dreaming about the way things sound now. Write about them in my book. Worried that you can hear me now, and feel the time I took. To help you feel this feeling. Let you ride along. Dreaming about the way you feel now when you hear my song.

BYLINE: When a rock star reaches memoir-writing age, his or her most impactful music is usually a flyspeck in the rearview mirror. The primary activity becomes reselling the myth. That's not the case with Neil Young. Sure, he recycles stuff - some of the melodies and chord sequences here echo songs he wrote decades ago. But the best moments on this uneven set find him immersed in sharing what he's been thinking about lately, his complex emotional landscape.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWISTED ROAD")

YOUNG: (Singing) Walking with the devil on a twisted road, listen to the dead on the radio. That old time music used to soothe my soul. If I ever get home I'm gonna let the good times roll. Let the good times roll.

BYLINE: And, of course, Neil Young has help. Whenever things get too cozy, Crazy Horse is there to rearrange the furniture.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BYLINE: These longtime collaborators won't let their leader rest on any laurels. When the singing stops and Young falls into one of the band's epic guitar journeys, the music positively erupts.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: The new album from Neil Young and Crazy Horse is called "Psychedelic Pill." Our critic is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YOUNG: (Singing) Looking for a good time. Looking for a good time.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.