Neil Young
Greatest Hits

Warner
2004
A+



eil Young has never made the same album twice. Try me, I checked. There’s always a distinct quality to each of his full-lengths, something that separates them from all the rest. Even Broken Arrow, which looks and sounds like just another Crazy Horse album, is the first and only time he’s ever done Just Another Crazy Horse album. Plus, it was the first recorded without David Briggs. Last year he didn’t just resurrect his Bernard Shakey directorial persona (something nobody thought or hoped he would do), he also made his first trio album. Guitar-bass-drums. For all that he’s done, he never got around to that level of instrumental simplicity before.

Something else he’s never gotten around to is, this, his first perfect album. Don’t get me wrong, I love Neil Young albums. I can only think of five recordings I like more than Rust Never Sleeps. Only ten more than Decade. Forty-five more than Tonight’s The Night. But they aren’t perfect. Few albums are. Perfection and art don’t really collide, and Neil Young is, without question, an artist. That’s why this release leaves me astounded despite spending half my life thinking he’s King Shit. He achieved perfection by doing something I didn’t think he could: remove all art from the album-making process.

This is the first Neil Young album entirely devoid of creative expression. The song choices are stunningly obvious: three big radio smashes each from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After The Gold Rush and Harvest, his two CSN&Y; hits, the title tracks of his most successful post-Harvest country-rock releases (one nominated for Song Of The Year at the Grammies), the two biggest Poncho-era Crazy Horse anthems and “Rockin’ In The Free World”. That’s it.

Unlike Decade, the 70s comp loaded with rarities, cool liner notes and odd choices, this album offers nothing, NOTHING to the Neil Young fan. That’s why this album is perfect. Where most compilations these days feature rarities, peculiarities or new tracks to entice die-hards to grab a copy, Young was kind enough to release something that Shakeyphiles could ignore without hesitation. What about the DVD, you say? Pictures of Neil, two extremely dated videos and footage of a record spinning while you listen to the track on DVD audio? Sorry, but any enthusiast with an ounce of practicality can sleep soundly without owning those sprinkles.

The album isn’t just a blessing for us die-hards. It’s also the only album a non-fan will ever need to own. All the big radio songs and nothing but; no “Transformer Man” in place of a “Southern Man”. Anybody who moans the lack of a “Cortez The Killer” or “Sugar Mountain” should just pick up Decade. Anybody who thinks “Downtown”, “Revolution Blues” or “Sleeps With Angels” got the shaft is a clearly a Neil Young fan and should shut up and be glad they’ve got an extra fifteen bucks for when the guy finally drops that massive dozens-plus archival box set he’s been promising for over a decade.

The recent re-release of his lost ‘70s works means that he’s finally satisfied with digital technology and I have a feeling that the commercial capitulation of this single disc fart is probably a “thank you” to Warner Bros. for letting him drop the long-awaited Ex-Lax gastric blast sometime soon. So until that Lost Ark descends from the sky, just play the full-lengths and buy this for an extended family member who’s not as cool as they think they are. Smile at it this true classic every time you thumb through his rack at the store, knowing that the dude’s got your back.



Reviewed by: Anthony Miccio

Reviewed on: 2004-12-09

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Comments
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Posted 12/09/2004 - 06:44:32 AM by bulb64:
 No Neil Young Greatest Hits collection that does not include "Cortez the Killer" is perfect. I'm not sure there was really a need for this record unless you want rockin' in the free world and mirror ball stuff not on Decade, especially since Decade is now available as a less bulky double CD.
 
Posted 12/09/2004 - 07:39:40 AM by florenz6:
 "Greatest hits" may work as a quick introduction for young listeners and for nostalgic desires before Christmas, but I prefer every single Neil Young album (even the flaws) to any kind of compilation. A listener will be far more drawn into a special sound world, when he makes the experience of "Neil Young", "After The Goldrush, "On The Beach", "Tonight´s The Night" and "Rust Never Sleeps" (all masterpieces from my point of view) from beginning to end. The "quick-access-mode" does not really go so deep.
 
Posted 12/09/2004 - 02:32:10 PM by IanMathers:
 Nah, Anthony's nailed it; you guys (and Anthony, and I) are Neil Young fans, and so this collection is meaningless for us. Pointing new fans at "Decades", as awesome as it is, is going to turn a lot of people off (two discs! rarities!). More greatest hits for big, significant acts (Talking Heads, I'm looking at you!) need to be like this: The perfect introduction for newbies/casual fans, and that's it. Yes, I would have liked to have "Cortez The Killer" too, but this one isn't for me. We all own this shit anyway.
 
Posted 12/09/2004 - 04:18:18 PM by hutlock:
 I agree with everything Anthony says. I would like to add that I want a fucking legit CD copy of "Time Fades Away" though -- my vinyl is in baaaad shape at this point. And Talking Heads put out a single-disc best of collection much like this one earlier this fall on Rhino. Or are you saying it wasn't any good, Ian? I couldn't tell...
 
Posted 12/09/2004 - 05:29:46 PM by deamous:
 Proof that there is a thin line between artistic inscrutability and record-label efficacy. A great Christmas present, either way.
 
Posted 12/09/2004 - 06:58:35 PM by IanMathers:
 I'm saying that no casual TH fan needs, for example, Love -> Building On Fire" or "Houses In Motion". As good as they may be. If they had taken the track down to 11-2 tracks, it'd be the same sort of flawless collection as this one is. Best ofs need less bloat.
 
Posted 12/09/2004 - 08:10:29 PM by anthonymiccio:
 While I don't necessarily want to hear "City Of Dreams" again in my life, I have love for the T-Heads' Sand In The Vaseline for the same reason I do Decade. Haven't really looked at the tracklisting for the new 1CD deal.
 
Posted 12/11/2004 - 11:33:10 AM by Sotoalf:
 When I first bought Sand in the Vaseline in 1992 it was the only thing in my car cassette player for months. Anthony's right: the compilation is a lot like Decade, and maybe overstuffed; but I was a casual fan then, and didn't mind plopping down $15 to hear supposedly classic songs. It was one of the wisest investments of my life and made a Heads freak to this day (a pox on "True Stories" though).
 
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