Saturday, November 03, 2012

Neil Young's a pill

Notwithstanding his long-voiced disdain for digital recording, I've always felt that Neil Young - almost along among major artists - fully embraced the musical freedom made possible by the digital age.

When other artists used the extra 25-40 minutes made possible in the CD format to turn 10-song albums into 16-song albums, Neil (sometimes with Crazy Horse, sometimes with his more mellow stoner buds) just made his songs longer - sometimes, well over 10 minutes long.  More guitar solos, longer guitar solos, and on occasion, the epic narrative - "Cortez the Killer" on steroids, if you will.

On Psychedelic Pill, Neil and Crazy Horse set out to test the boundaries of that freedom.  The first song, "Driftin' Back," is over 27 minutes long, or roughly 7 minutes longer than the amount of music that could be crammed on one side of an old-style vinyl LP (plus, there are three other songs longer than 16 minutes - and you thought Dylan's "Tempest" was an epic?).  We're getting into some serious Grateful Dead territory with that kind of song length - I mean, "Dark Star" isn't even that long.  And it sounds exactly what you would imagine a 27-minute song from Neil Young with Crazy Horse would sound like - verses that build into a crescendo in the chorus, with lots of guitar interplay between Neil and Frank Sampedro in between. 

And what is the song about?  The nightmare of recording in the digital age, of course (among other things that aren't as fun now that things are so modern).  Check out this verse:

When you hear my song now
You only get 5%
You used to get it all now
You used to feel it all
Blockin' out my anger
Blockin' out my anger
Blockin' out my anger
Blockin' out my anger

That's absolutely true, but then on the other hand, I don't remember a lot of 27-minute songs on those vinyl classics like "After the Gold Rush" and "Rust Never Sleeps."   In the end, there's something pretty funny (at least to me) about a band that takes full advantage of technology that didn't exist 30 years ago to rail on about said technology. 

Don't get me wrong - I love Neil Young, and I own more Neil Young albums than I do albums by Springsteen, or Dylan, or the Beatles, or even the Stones.  And Psychedelic Pill, the second Neil with Crazy Horse album we've been treated to this year, sounds great - a lot better than anything he's released in recent memory, in fact.  I'll be listening to it a lot, and since there are some mornings when 27 minutes is the perfect amount of running time for my modest ability, "Driftin' Back" will come in very handy.

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