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