There’s a telling clip buried somewhere in “Archives Volume One”, where Neil Young is poring over a tableful of photographs and clippings with Joel Bernstein. Here, it seems, everything is ready for this release. Young talks enthusiastically about the recording of the Massey Hall show he’s been listening to – and then you notice the date of the footage. It is 1997. Not only has Young been talking up this project for decades, he also seems to have had most of the material sorted and to hand for most of that time.

There’s a telling clip buried somewhere in “Archives Volume One”, where Neil Young is poring over a tableful of photographs and clippings with Joel Bernstein. Here, it seems, everything is ready for this release. Young talks enthusiastically about the recording of the Massey Hall show he’s been listening to – and then you notice the date of the footage. It is 1997. Not only has Young been talking up this project for decades, he also seems to have had most of the material sorted and to hand for most of that time.

Spending yesterday in the company of “Archives”, a couple of things crossed my mind. One, it may be churlish to complain about the endless prevarication surrounding it, now “Archives” has finally arrived, but the epic build-up to this release now seems critical to its legend – as Young himself clearly understands by including such clips.

And two, the somewhat ridiculous notion that Young was holding back the release until technology caught up with his vision does, surprisingly, seem to make sense. I’ve been working here with the DVD version, which can be a frustrating business, as you can’t view all the archival pictures, lyric scrawls, reviews, badges and so on while playing the music. It does seem most suited to a more flexible format like the much-vaunted (by Young himself) Blu-Ray. Or to a less flexible format, like simple old CDs.

That’s how I, more or less, treat “Archives” on my first pass through, just focusing on the beautifully-sequenced audio tracks. There’s a very obvious problem here in that, as has been discussed at length, relatively little unheard music turns up. While it’s not exactly a hardship to hear great swathes of, say, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, many of us hoped for something a little less familiar.

Now, I think that may be based on a misunderstanding of “Archives”. It’s not a rarities set for obsessives, it’s more of a multi-media cultural autobiography that must necessarily include definitive recordings alongside all the ephemera. For completists, Disc 00 will probably be the most gripping, covering as it does the putative efforts of Young, first in the Ventures-ish Squires, then with Comrie Smith, then finally by himself, unveiling uncanny versions of “Sugar Mountain” (in a less quavering lower register), “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” and some serviceable lost songs.

From there we zip through Buffalo Springfield (and two more unheard songs, not hugely memorable on first listen), onto the early solo years and, with Disc 03, the “Live At The Riverboat” solo set from 1969. The vibe here is very similar to that of the “Sugar Mountain” 1968 album released a few months ago (and mystifyingly not included in “Archives”; was it uncovered too late for the deadline, perhaps? As late as 2001, say?), right down to the amiable, lengthy chatter and showstopping “Last Trip To Tulsa”.

Disc 04 includes maybe the one really essential unheard song on the whole set, a merrily wracked Crazy Horse track called “Everybody’s Alone”, before artfully plotting the crossover between Young’s solo work and his engagements with CSNY. That point’s made even more forcefully on Disc 05, where a run of “After The Gold Rush” songs dovetail into “Ohio”, CSNY live versions of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “Tell Me Why” and, brilliantly, “Music Is Love” from Crosby’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name”.

Disc 8 heads into “Harvest” country and salvages the mightily extended “Words (Between The Lines Of Age)” from the “Journey Through The Past” soundtrack, plus the “War Song” single with Graham Nash. Throw in the Massey Hall and Fillmore East live sets that we already know, plus the “Journey Through The Past” film which, I must admit, I haven’t yet watched, and that seems to be your lot.

Which is great, really, and which works exceptionally well as an early career retrospective. A second pass through the DVDs, however, starts revealing some of the riches that justify the bells-and-whistles treatment. It’s the dept of detail that intrigues: the poster for the Riverboat date, for example, that shows Young’s gigs were between ones by Mike Seeger, Doc Watson, Spider John Koerner and Jerry Jeff Walker.

Or, better still, the film clips hidden in the timelines on each disc. A Johnny Cash TV special, where Cash delivers an anti-drugs homily before cutting to Young playing “The Needle And The Damage Done”. A Dutch TV doc where the camera crew follow Young and Elliott Roberts on the former’s ranch and meet up with the titular “Old Man” and his son, fresh back from the army. A session with the LSO in Barking Town Hall, with Jack Nitzsche swigging heartily from a can of Long Life.

There’s a fingerpicking solo café show from 1970, with an intently fingerpicked version of “The Loner” segueing into “Cinnamon Girl”, and a finale of Young teaching the latter song to a fan in a park (quite effectively, seeing how our Production Editor was playing it a few minutes after watching the clip). And best of all, a 1969 TV show with CSNY playing an absolutely glorious “Down By The River”, with a great Stills/Young duel (could’ve done with this one as an audio track, too).

I’m sure there’s more here. Let me play some other records for a day or two, then take another look.