Neil Young is both a brilliant and utterly infuriating artist.
If you’re a fan, he’s the man who created some of the most timeless music in pop history, music that has held up for decades and is likely to hang around long after he’s gone. But he’s also famously stingy with releasing the voluminous contents of his vault, and fans have been drooling over its contents for years, waiting with bated breath for an official release that may never come.
Fans thought this chicanery was finally going to come to an end with the release of the first volume of his “Archives” project in 2009. An eight-disc box set containing both familiar hits and long-sought-after rarities, it contained highlights of his first 10 years as a recording artist. Similar boxes covering subsequent decades were supposed to follow shortly thereafter.
Well, it’s eight years later, and volume two is still just a fantasy, despite the bi-annual press releases saying that it’s coming “soon.” Young has focused instead on making new albums and creating his high-resolution Pono player, but for people waiting for the next box set to come out, tough shit. They have to satisfy themselves with a couple of live archive releases, and that’s it.
The wait for the next box may not be over, but Young is finally throwing fans a bone in the form of “Hitchhiker,” a solo acoustic album that he recorded in 1976 and then shelved. It will finally see the light of day in September. The self-titled single was released today (8/04/17).
If Young goal was to create the longest, slowest album release in history, mission accomplished. Kudos, Neil.
“Hitchhiker,” the single, is not totally new to Neil Young fans. He recorded an electric version of it for his 2010 album “Le Noise,” but here the song is stripped down to his thin reed of a voice, his acoustic guitar and a little harmonica. It’s really how the song should have been heard all along, as opposed to the pointlessly amplified version of seven years ago.
Whether or not you’ll like “Hitchhiker” – the single or the album – comes down to whether you’re a fan of Neil Young. If you’re not on board, there’s not much here to make the clouds part and hand you an epiphany about his music from on high.
If, however, you are a fan, the song features what we’ve come to expect from a lot of his work. It’s an accidental masterpiece that he pulled out of his ass, only to labor over its release for decades on end. “Hitchhiker” is in keeping with albums such as “Homegrown” and “Toast,” which Young recorded, shelved and then threatened to release for decades without actually doing it.
For Neil Young, everything comes naturally but the release date. Luckily for us, if the single is any indication, it looks like “Hitchhiker,” the album, will be a solid addition to his catalog. Whether it becomes a timeless pillar of popular music in the way his classic albums did remains to be seen.