At the height of an argument in which he is embroiled as the staunch defender of the importance of high-fidelity sound, he’s taken it upon himself to release arguably the lowest-fidelity album ever made by a major artist. A Letter Home was made in a restored 1947 Voice-O-Graph booth, a fairground attraction that allowed users to take home a vinyl record of their voice. The result is muffled, distorted and buried beneath layers of crackle and hiss. Depending on your perspective, it either adds a magical patina of age to the music, or sounds like someone locked Neil Young in a cupboard then set about cooking a fried breakfast.
But the most impactful track here might be the most recent, Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown: a song from the era of Reaganomics, about financial devastation wrought on 1960s New Jersey, recorded, during yet another financial crisis, in a manner that suggests it was cut at the height of the Great Depression. The suggestion seems to be that this kind of misery is eternal: while Springsteen sang it in a voice that implied stoicism, Young just sounds crushed. Its gloom is potent and pervasive, and, while you’re mired in it, A Letter Home doesn’t seem like a baffling act of wilful perversity. It makes perfect sense, as it presumably does to the man who recorded it.