Why would anyone except a Neil Young obsessive (and admittedly there are a few) buy this new compilation when ‘Decade’, originally a 3 vinyl album set and now neatly packaged as a double CD, from 1977 covers much the same ground? Especially when ‘Decade’ can still be found quite easily and quite cheaply.

At first glance it would seem that ‘Decade’ would be the better bet anyway. With only 2 of the 16 songs on ‘Greatest Hits’ representing the albums Young has released over the last 25 years ( Rockin’ In The Free World’ from 1989 and ‘Harvest Moon’ from 1991) the remaining 14 songs cover the years 1969 through to 1978. A little short of a decade, in fact. That original Young compilation ( and we’ll ignore the Geffen ‘collections’ ‘Lucky Thirteen’ and ‘Mystery Train’ for now) covered the years 1966 to 1976 and therefore included his most famous songs cut with Buffalo Springfield and also touched upon his first, often neglected, self titled solo album. ‘The Loner’ from that first album made ‘Decade’ but not ‘Greatest Hits’. A mystery why songs of that calibre are missing as in reality Young, in the U.K. at least, has had only one real hit in the accepted sense of the word; ‘Heart Of Gold’ in 1972, although he did make a few more showings in the lower end of the charts.

But then anyone with more than a passing interest in Young’s work could find fault with the track selection. These songs were chosen based on original record sales, airplay and known downloaded history as Young kindly points out in the CD notes.

That initial glance should really have even the most hardened Young fan thinking this album was released to pick up any last minute Christmas sales. It’s almost a smack in the face for those who have been waiting God knows how many years for the often promised ‘Archives’ box set. Last heard of, it could now be up to 20 CDs. Maybe the time is finally near and this collection is intended as a taster for that long awaited and elusive box set?

But, as is nearly always the case with Young, he does things his way or not at all and things are not actually as bad as they seem with this overview of an admittedly limited period of his work. It has been well documented that Young has never been happy with the sound produced by compact discs. Read any article where he brings the subject up and he puts forward a very good case as to why the sound of CDs is nowhere near as good as that of the old vinyl albums. Apparently it was Young’s dislike of the sound produced on CDs that delayed the issue of some of his albums on the format for so long. ‘On The Beach’, ‘American Stars ‘n Bars’ and so on were only issued on CD as recently as 2003.

Along with the CD of ‘Greatest Hits’, at least with the initial batch (but I’ve a sneaking feeling that it is not actually a ‘limited edition’ as such) is a further disc of exactly the same songs but on a DVD in, as Young puts it, ‘super- saturated DVD - stereo’. According to the great man, this is how the music should be heard as it is as close to the studio recordings as is possible and even better than the much vaunted 5.1 surround sound available on many music DVDs. Is he right? Of course he bloody well is.

To really appreciate DVD sound it has always been thought that the 5.1 surround sound mix was the ultimate listening experience and to bring the old favourite up again one listen to ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ by the Flaming Lips in that format would be confirmation enough. It’s not necessarily that it sounds better but the listening experience is something else completely and one can certainly hear sounds which are inaudible on the CD version.

‘Greatest Hits’, however, is not in surround sound; it’s only stereo so it’s difficult to say exactly why the album sounds better in this format. But the sound is definitely warmer and without the shrillness usually associated with CDs. It may sound like a cliché but it really does sound like you’d imagine it would were you in the studio when the songs were being put to tape. It’s a full, punchy sound and sounds totally natural. All the instruments are more pronounced but the separation between them is not so great so that it sounds odd like the old ‘electronically enhanced stereo’ did all those years ago. It just blends together naturally and sounds so right. The sound is much closer to the analogue sound of those old vinyl albums, something that has been sadly lacking since the advent of CDs. In some ways it’s better than vinyl. Those natural, warm sounds are back without the annoying pops and crackles which have accumulated over the years on our vinyl copies of Young’s earliest albums and it’s now coupled with the convenience of the CD format.

The one thing though where DVD Audio usually suffers is in the visuals which normally accompany the music. We enjoy CDs just for the music so why do we expect visuals with DVD Audio? Probably because DVD was initially sold as the greatest visual experience we would have record companies felt we would feel short changed if no visuals accompanied the music on a DVD. If it’s a set of promo videos than fair enough but do we really need to watch the headache inducing visuals on ‘Yoshimi’ more than once? The music speaks for itself so turn the television off and listen to the thing!

Young, however, has again done something different. To accompany each song we have a picture on the television screen of an old record player actually playing the vinyl album from where that actual song came. Not only that the record player arm is actually in the right position for each particular track. Looks boring? Not a chance. It’s actually quite addictive and fascinating. And where the song was released on 7’’ vinyl like the Crosby Stills Nash and Young single ‘Ohio’ we see the actual single spinning around at 45 rpms on the turntable. Not content with that when Young had to concede that his new albums were going to have to be released on CD like it or not, to keep things authentic we get ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ actually spinning around inside a CD player on the screen. The album closes in typical Young fashion by showing the singer got his way once again as ‘Harvest Moon’, the newest song here, appears back on vinyl again even though the album was ,of course, more readily available on CD. The concept works better in reality than on paper but Young, by keeping the visuals simple and real, has broken new ground here.

And that’s the whole point surely of this new collection. It’s not to replace ‘Decades’ but to allow us to hear (admittedly far too few) of some of Young’s past work as he has wanted us to hear it for years. Viewing the collection like that it makes more sense. Is it too much to hope that if given enough positive feedback from this release Young might just go ahead and give the okay for ‘Archives’ to be released on this format? If this collection had been advertised as being a single disc taster for ‘Archives’ in super-saturated DVD-stereo then advance orders for the massive box set would go off the chart.

It’s hardly unlikely that the standard ‘Greatest Hits’ is going to attract any non fans to Young’s work; ‘Decades’ has over twice as many tracks for maybe less money. But the excellent sound produced on the DVD version is enough to make even the fan that has everything buy it again. The downside is, of course, now I want to hear the first solo album in this format; even Young was disappointed with the original mix and the album would be a revelation if it matched the sound on this compilation but the likelihood of that happening seems remote to say the least.

For any Young fan that has a DVD player this collection is a must. For those without such a machine it’s more than a good enough reason to seriously consider buying one.














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