June 02, 2009
Pop/Rock, Hard Rock, Country-Rock, Psychedelic, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Singer/Songwriter, Folk-Rock, Album Rock

Album Review

Any project in the works for two decades is bound to generate its fair share of myths and so it is with Neil Young's Archives, a series of multi-disc box sets chronicling Young's history. Originally envisioned in the late '80s as a Decade II, the project quickly mutated into a monster covering every little corner of Neil's career. With its escalation came delays, so many that it sometimes seemed that the project never really existed; it was just a shared fantasy between Neil and his faithful. During that long, long wait, fans held tight to the idea that Archives was a clearinghouse of rarities similar to Bob Dylan's The Bootleg Series, a treasure trove of unreleased songs and epochal live performances that would trump whatever bootleggers had to offer. While rare and unheard music is certainly a key part of Archives, particularly on the first disc covering the pre-history of 1963-1965, viewing this project as merely a music box set is wildly misleading. Neil Young has designed Archives as nothing less than an immersive multimedia autobiography, an interactive experience where the music, text, video, and pictures feed off each other, creating a virtual journey through Neil's past.
Because this is a biography, Archives, Vol. 1 winds up relying very heavily on previously released recordings, containing almost all of Neil Young, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, and Harvest, key Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cuts, and the previously released archival live albums Live at the Fillmore East 1970 and Live at Massey Hall 1971. Such a large chunk of familiar material is bound to disappoint any listener expecting Archives to be a rarities-only set, forgetting that its origin was as a sequel to Decade, the triple-LP set that mixed up hits with unreleased tunes. Archives follows a similar blueprint, excavating many rare gems -- some, like "Bad Fog of Loneliness," quite familiar to bootleggers; some, like an extraordinary "Dance Dance Dance," cut with Graham Nash, not -- and placing them neatly alongside his well-known jewels, so the end effect isn't a rush of discovery but ongoing quiet revelation, an impression underpinned by the set's leisurely pace.
The entire Archives is designed to trace Neil's evolution, to explain how his dead ends were really detours and how his mood swings weren't all that wild; it preserves Young's history as he perceived it. To that end, the DVD edition of the set is essential to understanding both the project and Neil himself. Often, Young delayed Archives due to the limits of technology, a claim that seemed no more than an excuse to keep the project incomplete, but Archives in its DVD incarnation lives up to all of Neil's promises over the years, coming close to collecting everything -- lyrics, press, artwork, TV performances, doodles, scraps of every sort -- in one place, letting users linger for as long as they'd like in a specific era. Surely, the sound quality is extraordinary -- the music leaps out of the speakers yet never sounds overly clean, digital, or modern -- but it's the interactive nature of the set that impresses most. Acting as a supplement to the text biographies on each disc -- the biography only covering the years on the disc -- the time line places Young's evolution on a broader scale and is illuminated by this extra material, such as a downright thrilling CSNY performance of "Down by the River" on ABC-TV, but this is merely a teaser for the main event: the virtual filing cabinet, where every song on the set has its own folder bulging with handwritten lyrics, press clips, photos, snippets of in-concert introductions, alternate takes -- the list is almost endless and it's always different, so it's easy to flip back to a song and discover a bunch of information you missed the first time around. Add to this, there is an untold number of Easter eggs, sometimes housing the best stuff here, such as videos of Young combing through the archives and reminiscing in 1997, or a 15-minute film clip of Young discovering a CSNY bootleg while record shopping in the early '70s and then taking it from the store.
This level of detail may suggest the one serious flaw in Archives: it cannot be taken casually. It demands complete, undivided attention, requiring users to dig as deep as they'd like, and it's no stretch to say that it could take a week or two to discover everything here. Also, the set comes so tantalizingly close to being complete, it's a major irritation to have one song lopped off each of the albums; surely, the extra storage space on the DVD could have allowed for complete runs of Everybody, Gold Rush, and Harvest. But really, these complaints feel churlish when faced with a box that is an embarrassment of riches, offering so much more than anybody could have imagined during that long, long wait. Not only was the wait worth it, Archives feels like it was 20 years in the making. It's an extraordinary work that redefines what an autobiography can be.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Aurora [Mono Version][Multimedia Track]
  2. The Sultan [Mono Version][Multimedia Track]
  3. I Wonder [Mono Version][#][Multimedia Track]
  4. Mustang [Mono Version][#][Multimedia Track]
  5. I'll Love You Forever [Mono Version][#][Multimedia Track]
  6. (I'm a Man And) I Can't Cry [Mono Version][#][Multimedia Track]
  7. Hello Lonely Woman [DVD][#]
  8. Casting Me Away from You [DVD][#]
  9. There Goes My Babe [DVD][#]
  10. Sugar Mountain [Mono Version][#][Demo Version][Multimedia Track]
  11. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing [DVD][#][Demo Version][Version]
  12. Runaround Babe [Mono Version][#][Multimedia Track]
  13. The Ballad of Peggy Grover [DVD][#][Version]
  14. The Rent Is Always Due [DVD][#][Version]
  15. Extra, Extra [Mono Version][#][Multimedia Track]
  16. I Wonder [Mono Version][#][*][Multimedia Track]
  17. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing [DVD][#][*][Version]
  18. Flying on the Ground [Mono Version][Multimedia Track]
  19. Burned [Mono Version][Multimedia Track]
  20. Out of My Mind [DVD][Version]
  21. Down, Down, Down [Mono Version][#][Multimedia Track]
  22. Kahuna Sunset [DVD][Version]
  23. Mr. Soul [DVD][Version]
  24. Sell Out [Mono Version][Multimedia Track]
  25. Down to the Wire [DVD][Version]
  26. Expecting to Fly [DVD]
  27. Slowly Burning [DVD][#]
  28. One More Sign [DVD]
  29. Broken Arrow [DVD]
  30. I Am a Child [DVD]
  31. Do I Have to Come Right out and Say It? [DVD][*]
  32. Flying on the Ground Is Wrong [DVD][*]
  33. For What It's Worth [DVD][*]
  34. This Is It!: Rock and Roll Woman/A Child's Claim to Fame/Bluebird [Mono
  35. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere [DVD]
  36. The Loner [DVD]
  37. Birds [DVD][#]
  38. What Did You Do to My Life? [DVD][#]
  39. The Last Trip to Tulsa [DVD]
  40. Here We Are in the Years [Second Version][Multimedia Track]
  41. I've Been Waiting for You [DVD][#]
  42. The Old Laughing Lady [DVD]
  43. I've Loved Her So Long [DVD]
  44. Sugar Mountain [DVD][#]
  45. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing [DVD][Live][#]
  46. Down by the River [DVD]
  47. Cowgirl in the Sand [DVD]
  48. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere [DVD]
  49. The Emperor of Wyoming [DVD][*]
  50. Sugar Mountain [DVD][Live][#]
  51. The Old Laughing Lady [DVD][Live][#]
  52. Flying on the Ground Is Wrong [DVD][Live][#]
  53. On the Way Home [DVD][Live][#]
  54. I've Loved Her So Long [DVD][Live][#]
  55. I Am a Child [DVD][Live][#]
  56. 1956 Bubblegum Disaster [DVD][Live][#]
  57. The Last Trip to Tulsa [DVD][Live][#]
  58. Broken Arrow [DVD][Live][#]
  59. Whiskey Boot Hill [DVD][Live][#]
  60. Expecting to Fly [DVD][Live][#]
  61. Cinnamon Girl [DVD]
  62. Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets) [DVD]
  63. Round and Round (It Won't Be Long) [DVD]
  64. Oh Lonesome Me [DVD][#]
  65. Birds [Mono Version][Multimedia Track]
  66. Everbody's Alone [DVD][#]
  67. I Believe in You [DVD]
  68. Sea of Madness [DVD][Live]
  69. Dance Dance Dance [DVD][#]
  70. Country Girl: Whiskey Boot Hill/Down, Down, Down/Country Girl (I Think
  71. Helpless [DVD][#]
  72. It Might Have Been [DVD][Live][#]
  73. I Believe in You [DVD][#][*]
  74. I've Loved Her So Long [DVD][Live][#][*][Version]
  75. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere [DVD][Live]
  76. Winterlong [DVD][Live]
  77. Down by the River [DVD][Live]
  78. Wonderin' [DVD][Live]
  79. Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown [DVD][Live]
  80. Cowgirl in the Sand [DVD][Live]
  81. Tell Me Why [DVD]
  82. After the Gold Rush [DVD]
  83. Only Love Can Break Your Heart [DVD]
  84. Wonderin' [DVD][#]
  85. Don't Let It Bring You Down [DVD]
  86. Cripple Creek Ferry [DVD]
  87. Southern Man [DVD]
  88. Till the Morning Comes [DVD]
  89. When You Dance, I Can Really Love [DVD]
  90. Ohio [DVD][Version]
  91. Only Love Can Break Your Heart [DVD][Live][#]
  92. Tell Me Why [DVD][Live][#]
  93. Music Is Love [DVD]
  94. See the Sky About to Rain [DVD][Live][#]
  95. Don't Let It Bring You Down [DVD][*]
  96. When You Dance, I Can Really Love [DVD][*]
  97. Birds [DVD][*]
  98. On the Way Home [DVD][Live]
  99. Tell Me Why [DVD][Live]
  100. Old Man [DVD][Live]
  101. Journey Through the Past [DVD][Live]
  102. Helpless [DVD][Live]
  103. Love in Mind [DVD][Live]
  104. A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold (Suite) [DVD][Live]
  105. Cowgirl in the Sand [DVD][Live]
  106. Don't Let It Bring You Down [DVD][Live]
  107. There's a World [DVD][Live]
  108. Bad Fog of Loneliness [DVD][Live]
  109. The Needle and the Damage Done [DVD][Live]
  110. Ohio [DVD][Live]
  111. See the Sky About to Rain [DVD][Live]
  112. Down by the River [DVD][Live]
  113. Dance Dance Dance [DVD][Live]
  114. I Am a Child [DVD][Live]
  115. Heart of Gold [DVD][Live][#]
  116. The Needle and the Damage Done [DVD]
  117. Bad Fog of Loneliness [DVD][#]
  118. Old Man [DVD]
  119. Heart of Gold [DVD]
  120. Dance Dance Dance [DVD][#]
  121. A Man Needs a Maid [DVD][#]
  122. Harvest [DVD]
  123. Journey Through the Past [DVD][#]
  124. Are You Ready for the Country? [DVD]
  125. Alabama [DVD]
  126. Words (Between the Lines of Age) [DVD]
  127. Soldier [DVD][#]
  128. War Song [Mono Version][Multimedia Track]
  129. Journey Through the Past [DVD]
  130. Emcee Intro. [Live]
  131. On the Way Home [Live]
  132. Songwriting Rap [Live]
  133. Mr. Soul [Live]
  134. Recording Rap [Live]
  135. Expecting to Fly [Live]
  136. The Last Trip to Tulsa [Live]
  137. Bookstore Rap [Live]
  138. The Loner [Live]
  139. "I Used to..." Rap [Live]
  140. Birds [Live]
  141. Winterlong /Out of My Mind (Intro.) [Live]
  142. Out of My Mind [Live]
  143. If I Could Have Her Tonight [Live]
  144. Classical Gas Rap [Live]
  145. Sugar Mountain (Intro.) [Live]
  146. Sugar Mountain [Live]
  147. I've Been Waiting for You [Live]
  148. Songs Rap [Live]
  149. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing [Live]
  150. Tuning Rap/The Old Laughing Lady (Intro) [Live]
  151. The Old Laughing Lady [Live]
  152. Broken Arrow [Live]
  153. [DVD]
  154. On the Way Home
  155. Songwriting Rap
  156. Mr. Soul
  157. Recording Rap
  158. Expecting To Fly
  159. The Last Trip To Tulsa
  160. Bookstore Rap
  161. The Loner
  162. "I Used To..." Rap
  163. Birds
  164. Winterlong [Excerpt] & Out of My Mind - Intro.
  165. Out of My Mind
  166. If I Could Have Her Tonight
  167. Classical Gas Rap
  168. Sugar Mountain - Intro.
  169. Sugar Mountain
  170. I've Been Waiting For You
  171. Songs Rap
  172. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing
  173. Tuning Rap & the Old Laughing Lady - Intro.
  174. The Old Laughing Lady
  175. Broken Arrow
  176. [DVD]