Neil Young – Greatest Hits

The short review of this album is one word: No.

The longer review goes something like this…

I always knew the music industry was heartless, but this is a new low. Like a beautiful baby abandoned at birth and left to a life on the street, this CD has all the workings of a genuine masterpiece, but not a single drop of the love a project like this required. Ignoring a ludicrous track ordering, lack of liner notes, and quite possibly the worst music DVD ever created, Greatest Hits is an album filled with musical gems. But don’t let that fool you- Neil Young wrote albums upon albums of gems; it took two discs to sum up a small section of his career (on the much superior Decade), and this selection disregards so much of his catalog (75’s essential Zuma, 96’s excellent Merkinball are both ignored, not to mention the entirety of Buffalo Springfield’s recordings) that it cannot even be recommended as a beginner’s introduction to the world of Young. Unlike a band like Guided By Voices or an artist like Donovan, Neil Young never filled his albums with filler. Young is far closer to Bob Dylan, whose greatest hits span three volumes. On this album, the listener gets 16 tracks. Let me make myself clear- it would be an insult to Young to own this slapdash album in place of his catalog.

Of course, this is not to belittle the songs themselves, but instead the sequencing, song choice and overall lack of care given to these masterpieces. The album opens jarringly with the sprawling 9-minute rocker “Down by the River” followed by the even longer “Cowgirl in the Sand.” This deterrent effect can be blamed on the pointless chronological track listing. The order adds no effect of progression to the compilation, because Young jumped from genre to genre throughout his career, and instead makes Greatest Hits feel even more rushed and cheap. After “Helpless,” the albums third track, a mellow acoustic series of tracks follows, save the CSNY classic “Ohio.” This has the effect of implying to the uninitiated that Young forgot how to rock for a portion of his career. Why the album’s creators neglected to include even one track from perhaps his most emotional album, Tonight’s The Night, is unthinkable. “Heart of Gold” is still one of the most heartbreaking songs ever written, but it losses its fragility when shoved next to the mammoth “Like A Hurricane.” No two tracks flow into each other, and no two tracks would seem like a logical progress if the album’s producers had actually listened to the track order before they released the album.

What rock songs they do include in the album’s later part, such as the so-so sludgy live version of “Hey Hey (My My)” (replete with god-awful backup singers) and the mandatory anthem “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World,” are neither his finest, nor especially characteristic tracks. And the bonus DVD is nothing if not the final insult to the buyer’s intelligence. One might reasonably expect concert footage, interviews, or even music videos. What the DVD contains is something far less essential- video footage of a record player playing the songs that are on the album, followed by two not-great music videos. That’s it. Occasionally, the camera shakes or loses focus temporarily, giving the “film” even more of a low budget, freshman-film-school-project feel. Neil himself even realizes this, and, in his own cryptic way, apologizes for this half assed (and conveniently just in time for Christmas) cash in. The liner notes for this CD consist of one line written by Young himself. The line shows exactly how mechanical, half-hearted, and capitalistic this CD really is: “Greatest hits inclusion based on original records sales, airplay and known download history.” This is the biggest rock tragedy since “Baba O’Riley” was hawking SUVs; and a sad statement about the lack of heart in the recording industry today.

(Warner Bros.)