"The way she dances makes my world stand still," warbles Neil Young on Psychedelic Pill, the title track of his 35th studio album, a record that languorously noodles its way into the record books as his longest. If an hour and a half of Neil time sounds like a lot of guitar solos well, yes, it is.
"Every move is like a psychedelic pill/ From a doctor I can't find," Young continues, as a riff grinds on. The three-minute song, though, isn't this album's keynote address; psychedelia is not its metier. It is just a parenthesis. Young will return to the theme of girls dancing later on She's Always Dancin', a song improved by the massed backing harmonies of Crazy Horse.
Really, Neil Young's Psychedelic Pill is less a tab of acid and more a madeleine. The past is so alive here you can taste it, and not just in the form of Crazy Horse, the heroically dishevelled band Young toys with when the urge takes him (they were on board for June's warm-up exercise, Americana, an enjoyably gnarly surge through the kind of folk songs sung in primary schools).
Here, Twisted Road, a single of sorts, fetes Young's heroes and contemporaries, Dylan, Roy Orbison and the Grateful Dead. Young has just published a volume of memoirs, a kind of companion piece to this album.
Their most symbiotic spell comes with the album's 27-and-a-half-minute opening track, Driftin' Back, a song that gives a flavour of Waging Heavy Peace, a volume as concerned with the iniquity of digital recording techniques as it with Young's formative band, Buffalo Springfield. "Don't like the way things sound now/ Write about it in my book," Young sneers on Driftin' Back, as his guitar locks horns with that of "Poncho" Sampedro.
In a nutshell, Young hates MP3s, he doesn't like Picasso and he very much regrets the $35 he gave to the Maharishi. He wonders about his religious affiliation. More pertinently, Young is bitterly sorry that the 60s generation didn't change the world. At 66, he is especially conscious of his own vincibility, since he suffered an aneurysm in 2005. These latter themes entwine magnificently on Walk Like a Giant, this lollygagging album's truest path. At 16 and a half minutes, the sobriety of theme is balanced out with a little whistled melody, doo-wop backing vocals and Young's clanging guitar.
In many ways, Young's playing can sometimes be more grandiloquent than his vocals. Fans have a high tolerance for the titan of North Americana's admixture of angry directness ("Let's impeach the president for lying," ran 2006's Let's Impeach the President and prosaic woolliness. Here, in addition, we find self-quotation ("Hey, now, now"), and kvetching. The guitars fill in the logic gaps with the kind of instinctual playing honed over 40 years, interlocking jams that have probably seen action before, but not so much you'd mind.
In word, deed and playing, Young defies easy cogency; he is a man who records and releases according to the lunar cycle. "Think I might be a pagan," concludes Driftin' Back. The man refuses to be parcelled up into neat bitstreams and that's never been clearer than on this uneven but involving album. This, it seems, is his message: embrace the sprawl.