The biggest running joke is all of rock music, of course, has become the imminent release of the next Guns N’ Roses album, Chinese Democracy which is due to come out, either any day now or never. Even Syd Barrett was able to make a couple of solo albums after he went crazy, Axl.
However, Neil Young fans know that the wait for Chinese Democracy is nothing compared for how we’ve been waiting for Archives, the career-spanning box set that he’s been promising since — shit — Guns N’ Roses was just becoming the biggest band on the planet. We’ve been waiting for so long that his length of time that Archives can cover has actually doubled.
While some performance CDs have been released (the awesome Live at the Fillmore East and the not quite as awesome Live at Massey Hall, the bulk of the material assumed to be on Archives has only been available on bootlegs. Well, yesterday, Neil has made his latest announcement concerning Archives. The first 10 discs are coming out this fall. Whoo-hoo! On Blu-Ray. D’oh!
So despite the fact that I’ve been looking forward to this for nearly 20 years, right now I’m kinda disappointed.
Look, it’s not easy being a Neil Young fan. I first realized that during the 1980s, when he followed up a decade of amazing music with a decade of mostly unsuccessful musical experimentation. What’s weird about that, however, is that a lot of us Neil Young fans actually ended up having more respect for the fact that he was releasing albums that we didn’t really like, because he was following his own muse.
The tipping point from disappointment to respect was probably when he was actually sued by his own record company for not making “Neil Young Music,” which is still one of the greatest bullshit record company moves ever, because even if you thought that Everybody’s Rockin’ totally sucked balls, he still should have the right to make a misguided rockabilly record.
And actually, a lot of the records that he made between Live Rust and Freedom have their defenders. Tim has always defended Trans; I’ve always loved the know-nothing stupidity of Life, and I think that Sherilyn has a soft spot for This Note’s For You (but I could be wrong about that).
In fact, I could be remembering this wrong, but I think that instead of putting out Archives in 1989, he got his shit together and put out Freedom instead.
So, while we didn’t get Archives when originally promised, we got something better: Neil spent the first half of the 1990s totally kicking ass again (with the best record of that entire period, Harvest Moon, being the mellowest) and has since put out some pretty great records (Living With War, Prairie Wind) and some pretty bad ones (Are You Passionate? Greendale).
All of these had one thing in common: good or bad, Neil Young was living deeply in the concept and execution of each of these records. Which, I’ve come to realize is one of the things I love about Neil Young: he may not stick doing a single thing very long, but boy, when he’s in the moment, it’s the single most important thing he’s ever done. And if I don’t like it, I can always wait a few months for the next project.
And during all of that time, the idea of Archives would occasionally come up, but it seemed to be eternally back-burnered as Neil was putting everything into his latest project. So I stopped actively looking forward to it. I mean, if it came, awesome: it would replace all of those bootlegs I’d acquired over the years.
And now, here it is. In Blu-Ray.
I don’t have Blu-Ray. And even if I did, I’m not sure I’d be happy. Speaking strictly as a life-long fan of Neil Young’s, I think that this is a bad decision, for at least three reasons:
- Accessibility. As I already said, I don’t have Blu-Ray. Most people don’t have Blu-Ray. So the question becomes this: are 10 discs of unreleased Neil Young music going to be a tipping point into purchasing a piece of hardware that is primarily used for a totally different purpose?
And the larger question is: why make this music more difficult for people to hear by limiting it to a single format? I mean, absolutely release the Blu-Ray version, but why make people who don’t have it suffer?
- Price. Of course, I expect a 10-Disc box set of anything to be pricey. That comes with the territory. But how much more pricey is it going to be on Blu-Ray?
- Portability. This part really kills me:
Earlier technology didn’t offer the ability to browse archive material while listening to songs in high-resolution audio, Young noted.
Which is absolutely cool, of course: if the only time that you listen to music is sitting in front of a TV set! But I listen to music everywhere: in my car, in other rooms of my house, while running, at work, etc. It’s part of nearly every single aspect of my life — often to the annoyance of everybody else around me.
Therefore, in order to listen to some great Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere outtakes that have finally been released legitimately — to get the the fullest value from music I’ve paid a lot of money for — not only would I have to purchase a Blu-Ray player, I would have to acquire some means of ripping Blu-Ray discs, which is something that has never even crossed my radar.
I’ve been waiting 20 years for this?
In essence, what this decision has done is to reduce me from a life-long fan who has spent decades waiting to spend money on Neil Young’s Archives to someone who might end up waiting for someone else to rip it and post it for me.
The point is that limiting yourself to a single format in this day and age — no matter the quality of the format — is just bad form. Here’s hoping that it comes out not just in Blu-Ray, but versions on CD, and as high-quality .mp3z or .flac files.
I don’t need the highest quality possible, I just want to hear the music.