June 02, 2009
Warner Bros.
Pop/Rock, Psychedelic, Singer/Songwriter, Country-Rock, Folk-Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Hard 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 a 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 CD 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 and especially BluRay editions of the set are essential to understanding both the project and Neil himself, so much so that the CD edition feels almost like an afterthought, a skimming of the surface of a deep lake. 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 BluRay 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 on BluRay 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. While the DVD set also is complexly interactive, BluRay is designed to be continually updated via the Internet, so Young can add songs and videos whenever he wants, placing the new material as a virtual pushpin on each disc's time line. 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 are 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 of each the albums; surely, the extra storage space on DVD and BluRay 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
  2. The Sultan
  3. I Wonder [#]
  4. Mustang [#][Instrumental]
  5. I'll Love You Forever [#]
  6. (I'm a Man and) I Can't Cry [#]
  7. Hello Lonely Woman [#]
  8. Casting Me Away From You [#]
  9. There Goes My Babe [#]
  10. Sugar Mountain [#][Demo Version]
  11. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing [#][Demo Version]
  12. Runaround Babe [#]
  13. The Ballad of Peggy Grover [#]
  14. The Rent is Always Due [#]
  15. Extra, Extra [#]
  16. Flying On the Ground is Wrong
  17. Burned
  18. Out of My Mind
  19. Down, Down, Down [#]
  20. Kahuna Sunset
  21. Mr. Soul
  22. Sell Out [#]
  23. Down To the Wire
  24. Expecting To Fly
  25. Slowly Burning [#][Instrumental]
  26. One More Sign
  27. Broken Arrow
  28. I Am a Child
  29. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
  30. The Loner [#]
  31. Birds [#]
  32. What Did You Do To My Life? [Mix][#]
  33. The Last Trip To Tulsa
  34. Here We Are In the Years [Second Version][#]
  35. I've Been Waiting For You [Mix][#]
  36. The Old Laughing Lady
  37. I've Loved Her So Long [#]
  38. Sugar Mountain [#]
  39. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing [Live][#]
  40. Down By the River
  41. Cowgirl In the Sand
  42. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
  43. Emcee Intro/Sugar Mountain Intro [Live]
  44. Sugar Mountain [Live][#]
  45. Incredible Doctor Rap [Live]
  46. The Old Laughing Lady [Live][#]
  47. Audience Observation/Dope Song/Band Names Rap [Live]
  48. Flying On the Gound is Wrong [Live][#]
  49. On the Way Home Intro [Live]
  50. On the Way Home [Live][#]
  51. Set Break/Emcee Intro [Live]
  52. I've Loved Her So Long [Live][#]
  53. Allen a Dale Rap [Live]
  54. I Am a Child [Live][#]
  55. 1956 Bubblegum Disaster [Live][#]
  56. The Last Trip To Tulsa [Live][#]
  57. Words Rap [Live]
  58. Broken Arrow [Live][#]
  59. Turn Down the Lights Rap [Live]
  60. Whiskey Boot Hill [Live][#]
  61. Expecting To Fly Intro [Live]
  62. Expecting To Fly [Live][#]
  63. Cinnamon Girl
  64. Running Dry (Requiem For the Rockets)
  65. Round and Round (It Won't Be Long)
  66. Oh Lonesome Me [Stereo Mix][#]
  67. Birds
  68. Everybody's Alone [#]
  69. I Believe In You
  70. Sea of Madness [Live]
  71. Dance, Dance, Dance [#]
  72. Country Girl: Whiskey Boot Hill/Down, Down, Down/Country Girl (I Think
  73. Helpless [Mix][#]
  74. It Might Have Been [Live][#]
  75. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere [Live]
  76. Winterlong [Live]
  77. Down By the River [Live]
  78. Wonderin' [Live]
  79. Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown [Live]
  80. Cowgirl In the Sand [Live]
  81. Tell Me Why
  82. After the Gold Rush
  83. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  84. Wonderin' [#][Version]
  85. Don't Let It Bring You Down
  86. Cripple Creek Ferry
  87. Southern Man
  88. Till the Morning Comes
  89. When You Dance, I Can Really Love
  90. Ohio
  91. Only Love Can Break Your Heart [Live][#]
  92. Tell Me Why [Live][#][Version]
  93. Music is Love
  94. See the Sky About To Rain [Live][#]
  95. On the Way Home [Live]
  96. Tell Me Why [Live]
  97. Old Man [Live]
  98. Journey Through the Past [Live]
  99. Helpless [Live]
  100. Love In Mind [Live]
  101. A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold (Suite) [Live]
  102. Cowgirl In the Sand [Live]
  103. Don't Let It Bring You Down [Live]
  104. There's a World [Live]
  105. Bad Fog of Loneliness [Live]
  106. The Needle and the Damage Done [Live]
  107. Ohio [Live]
  108. See the Sky About To Rain [Live]
  109. Down By the River [Live]
  110. Dance, Dance, Dance [Live]
  111. I Am a Child [Live]
  112. Heart of Gold [Live][#]
  113. The Needle and the Damage Done [Live]
  114. Bad Fog of Loneliness [#]
  115. Old Man
  116. Heart of Gold
  117. Dance, Dance, Dance [#][Version]
  118. A Man Needs a Maid [Mix][#]
  119. Harvest
  120. Journey Through the Past [#]
  121. Are You Ready For the Country?
  122. Alabama
  123. Words (Between the Lines of Age)
  124. Soldier [Mix][#]
  125. War Song