Neil Young Archives: was it worth it?

Archives Guy with a prototype of Archives, holding the book

Archives Guy with a prototype of Archives, holding the book

Neil Young: Archives Vol 1 (1963-1972). 20-odd years in the making. 9 blu-ray discs. 125 tracks (plus 12 hidden tracks). What seems like a small hatchback’s worth of photos, lyrics, clippings and more. It makes that bonus CD with a few remixes seem like a kick in the teeth. Now THIS is for the fans.

Young managed to put out this £200+ package at a time when such things are in vogue. Well timed, old man. In the late 80s he might not have been able to pull this off. If you don’t normally pay that much for a single artist release, this is a good place to start (if you’re a fan).

There’s plenty of reviews out there that can tell you all about the music inside. But we want to talk about the package as a whole.

It’s insane. Even in the heady days of extravagant box sets from labels like Rhino and Bear Factory, this takes the cake. The box is huge, a little bigger than it needs to be, and it comes with 10 discs, a fantastic book, a poster and a little notepad. It’s sturdy too. We only cut the plastic wrapping at the top so it’s now nicely protected as well. Not sure where the hell we are going to store this. And really, the box could have been 50% smaller. Does no one remember the Longbox?

What kills is the book. A leather bound wonder full of memorabilia. Clippings, old photos we’ve never seen before. Drafts and drafts of old lyrics. Annoyingly, some of the lyrics in the booklet are for songs that are not on the box set. Wasn’t this supposed to be complete? That fact it’s not is one of our biggest gripes with Archives. Where is the Losing End? Wasn’t Winterlong from this era? 3 versions of Tell Me Why, yet the exclusion of one of Young’s best tracks – Out On the Weekend – the opening track to Harvest – is almost unforgivable. We could have done with a few more annotations about what the photos and clipping are, and when they were taken etc. But the whole thing is so darn pretty we can forgive. The cover alone – a leather print of a sunrise, knocks out LA hippie sandals right off.

Oddly, our blu-ray box came with a separately packaged copy of Sugar Mountain. Which is part of the Archives story, and it baffled us why it was not to be included. It baffles us now why it was included but not advertised. It really bugs us that we already owned this and two other live discs on the set. But not in blu-ray, so that’s something.

The poster and the notebook are nice. We took them out. Looked at them one. Put them away. don’t see ourselves doing that again for some time – if ever. Not to say we don’t appreciate this kind of stuff, but we don’t love it, and it’s a bonus, not a feature.

The discs are all packaged in it’s own sleeve with fantastic different covers. We love that. So many box sets don’t do that. A bit hard to get out but with so many discs, it will always be the case. And thank you for the free mp3s, redeemable with a code that comes with a credit card sized card, included in the package. It took a few days after release to became available, but it’s great for a casual listen.

But we didn’t just get Archives. We joined the Archives club. On the day of release, Young himself wrote the first of many notes about the box, under the title Archives Post Informer – on the official Archives site – http://www.neilyoungarchives.com. The site also has a handy interactive tutorial on how to use the menus on the discs and a nifty Q&A. You can also send Young your own memorabilia from the era for him to send to others and include in future releases.

If that wasn’t enough, there is always Archives Guy. Over at Thrasher’s Wheat, (THE Neil Young website), a man called Archives Guy has popped up and will occasionally answer question for the fans about this package. It’s amazing support for a release of any sort. And it makes you feel better about forking out the big bucks. (We assume Archives Guy is the guy written about in Shakey, but we can’t remember his name right now).

All in all – great job. The music that is on there is fantastic. A new, expensive bar has been set. We are still getting to know this mammoth collection and we look froward to doing it for a while longer. 20 years in the making and it was worth the wait. The next period in Young‘s career is our favourite. We hope it doesn’t take 20 years for Volume 2. Please give us more sporadic live albums til then.

We first wrote about Archives here – The gold rush: Neil Young’s Archives

The gold rush: Neil Young's Archives

Neil Young Archives - due June 1st

Neil Young's Archives - due 1st June

We never thought we would see the day. On June 1st, if everything goes according to plan, Neil Young will release the mammoth, 10 disc, £200+ box set called Archives. It’s been over 20 years in the making.

We first heard about this box set in a Mojo interview from 1995 (issue 25, those playing at home). That issue explains that Archives started life as Decade II (the follow-up to the almost flawless 3 LP compilation of Young’s early works), but quickly ballooned to a 20 CD set. Also in that article, Young claims “confidently” that the first volume would be out in…1996.

Years of waiting ensued. Every few years, and in just about every interview, Young would claim a release date. But nothing ever saw the light of day. Until now.

A year back, however, the biggest controversy of the project hit – there would be no CD version. Initially, it was to be only two versions, either 10 DVDs or 10 Bu-Rays.

Fans went into an uproar. Was Young being elitist? Who even had an expensive Blu-Ray player? On one hand, it seemed like Young was making a set for his baby boomer crowd only. On the other, he stands by the quality of Blu-Ray. He’s always been a stickler for sound quality, and the interface is supposed to be mind-blowing.

We were mainly worried about how we were going to rip the 10 Blu-Ray discs, but we’re sure some clever person will do it and put it all over the internet. This is what will inevitably happen when you don’t give people what they want. But in the end, Young relented, and a third, 8 CD version is also due. Mp3s will come with the DVD and BR versions.

So what is on this thing? No less than Young‘s entire career up to 1972, up to and including tracks from his blockbuster album, Harvest. 3 previously released live albums as well as all the great tracks and singles from those 70s albums, various collaborations from the era (CSN, Buffalo Springfield). Plus a full disc of teenage Neil in high school bands and a DVD of the unreleased concert film, Journey to the Past.The packaging looks amazing, and mad. The booklet reports to have lots of home photos and notes, and every bit of the blu-ray and DVD is packed with photos, info, posters and a lifetime of memorabilia.

So, we love this because it’s so ambitious. Has anyone even remotely tried something on this scale? We love Mr Young, he’s a true artist, and by that we mean he just doesn’t give a fuck about us. He follows his heart.

Yet – we are torn. We have so many of these tracks. We don’t listen to music on DVD, we don’t own a Blu-Ray (only just beginning to believe in it), and it seems almost worthless on CD. It’s also very expensive. And there’s 3 more volumes to come!

Finally, as is our way of thinking here – is this the future? We hope not. Few artists could pull it off (Dylan? Springsteen? Paul Simon?). Plus, we could not afford it. We waited so long – now we’re almost dreading the day.

Links and previews after the break

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