Neil Young’s 35th studio album might have been a train wreck.
It’s his second in four months, rush-released and speedily recorded. It includes two self-indulgent tracks stretching to 16 minutes each and another one topping out at nearly half an hour.
“Psychedelic Pill” may sound an odd title given Young’s shunning of drugs. He regresses to the 1960s on the slow-burn opener “Driftin’ Back.” Some of his lyrics are plain ridiculous: “I’m gonna get me a hip-hop haircut” indeed.
Still, many Young epics have silly words. And this time there’s at least nothing quite as bad as the infamous chorus: “Down by the river, I shot my baby.”
I’ve always liked long Young tracks -- “Like a Hurricane,” “Ordinary People,” “Love to Burn,” “Cortez the Killer” -- and this album adds more to the impressive canon as he saddles up his old cohorts Crazy Horse.
It’s a companion piece to Young’s recent autobiography, “Waging Heavy Peace.” The deadpan book covers years of excess: friends’ drug deaths and the star’s own health problems including a near-fatal brain aneurism. There’s also copious mention of his environmental campaigns.
The memoir’s final chapter begins: “A lot has happened over the years. I am now a very successful musician with a lot of stuff and things of value.” The new album can be counted among them. Rating: ****.
Young isn’t the only rock veteran to come back from health scares: Bobby Womack, who has had surgery for colon cancer, has released the excellent “The Bravest Man in the Universe.”
The CD has been out for a few months but has gradually been picking up plaudits, such as the Best Album award from Q Magazine this month. It’s coproduced by Damon Albarn of Blur and has Lana Del Rey guesting on one track. Rating: ****.
Fiona Apple’s latest also takes a while to digest -- even longer than to say its title: “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.” The collection starts with the pleasant “Every Single Night” and veers into challenging songs that seem to be difficult for the sake of it, and attempts to outdo Regina Spektor or Joanna Newsom. Rating: **.
Another U.S. singer-songwriter, Taylor Swift, adds a little Joni Mitchell-style maturity to her commercial cutting edge. This sometimes means obtuse lyrics and gently strummed guitars. Then she’s back in radio-friendly mode with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” The CD, “Red,” has rocketed off to strong sales and it’s musically more successful than Apple’s. Rating: ***.
Green Day went crazy in the studio this year and ended up with enough material for a three-disc set. The first volume is out now and called “Uno.” No prizes for guessing the titles of the next two: “Dos” and “Tre.” There’s also talk of a documentary called “Quatro.” The band stays true to its postpunk form with stripped-down bar rock and direct lyrics on “Kill the DJ.” Rating: **.
U.K. band Damn Vandals has a stronger album, “Done for Desire,” with some aggressive songs such as the opener “Revolution/ Rehearsal.” I hope these guys make it. Kasabian, and Green Day, should weep. Rating: ****.
Madness extend a 36-year career with chunks of cheeky-chappie Cockney humor on “Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da.” These Camden “nutty boys” are becoming national treasures in the U.K. after their Jubilee and Olympics concerts. They again hint at the greater seriousness shown on “The Liberty of Norton Folgate” from 2009. Rating: ***.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
Young’s album was released yesterday on Warner, Womack is on XL and Apple on Epic. The CD prices start at $10 and download prices vary across services.
Damn Vandals is on import from the U.K.’s Sexy Beast records and Madness on import from Cooking Vinyl. There are deluxe editions of Swift, on Big Machine, and Green Day on Reprise, all for $20.
Young’s book (500 pages) is published by Blue Rider Press at $30 or $450 for a limited signed edition. To buy the book in North America, click here.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Warwick Thompson on U.K. stage, Rich Jaroslovsky on tech, Jeremy Gerard on New York theater and Ryan Sutton on New York dining.