It gets kind of awkward when I'm listening to Neil Young and Crazy Horse's new double album, "Psychedelic Pill," on my iPod because much of the first track - the 27-minute-long epic "Driftin' Back" - consists of lyrics making me feel bad for doing so. "I don't want my MP3/ I don't want my MP3," Young sings, bringing to mind MTV's old catchphrase, "I want my MTV!" He continues, "When you hear my song now/ You only get 5 percent/ You used to get it all ... Blockin' out my anger/ Blockin' out my thoughts."
Well, this won't be any comfort to Young, but his anger comes through loud and clear - even in MP3 format. And what's almost more obvious than Young's dissatisfaction with contemporary listening methods is that he and Crazy Horse have made their second good album of the year. But unlike "Americana," the group's first CD of 2012, which featured grungy takes on traditional tunes like "Clementine," this album features original material.
Granted, most of the songs here echo older Young tunes. "Walk Like a Giant" and "Ramada Inn" both have moments that will remind you of "Hey Hey, My My" - but they, two of the best songs on the record, feel fresh and are certainly effective.
"Ramada Inn" is a 16-minute story song about a couple who stay together throughout their lives despite changing times, kids leaving and the husband's alcoholism.
As a piece of fiction, it's pretty flimsy, but the lyrics are descriptive enough to leave a distinct impression and I'll be damned if I'm not deeply moved as Young repeats, "She loves him so/ She loves him so/ She does what she has to." These words might remind you of your grandparents', parents' or even your own marriage - any relationship in which someone keeps sacrificing themselves out of love for self-indulgent partners who are unaware of or apathetic toward the pain they cause.
"Walk Like a Giant" has a similar setup to "Ramada." It's, again, 16 minutes, but this time the drama seems to be about Young's career. He sings about diminishing fame, "I used to walk like a giant on the land/ Now I feel like a leaf floating in a stream," and global warming, "Me and some of my friends/ We were gonna save the world ... but then the weather changed and the white got stained and it fell apart/ And it breaks my heart." It's honest and gripping and makes you feel the pain of '60s ideals being crushed all over again.
The best line on the album, which comes in "Twisted Road," drives home this sentiment: "First time I heard 'Like a Rolling Stone' I felt that magic and took it home/ Gave it a twist and made it mine, but nothing was good as the very first time." Young must have courted his muse long and hard before recording this one, which features a sing-a-long chorus that could've been from his CSNY days.
"Psychedelic Pill" is a revelation for long-time Young fans, but with nine songs running at nearly 90 minutes, it may send casual fans running for the hills. Much to Young's chagrin, it will be playing on my iPod for a while.
DOWNLOAD THESE NOW: "Twisted Road," "Ramada Inn."
**** stars out of five.