I believe Neil has been on record as calling this both one of his worst albums, yet also a very accurate record of what he was going through at the time. I agree with half of that sentiment. Time Fades Away is rough and ramshackle, a gritty album by a man feeling beat down by life. It also happens to have a lot of great songs on it, which are only improved by the raw, scabrous recordings captured within.
Perhaps I'm biased. Times Fades Away is something of a lost classic with a mythic status, because it has never been released on CD. It shares many aesthetic qualities with my favorite Neil Young album. It is possible that I have inflated the album's importance in my mind. But I don't think so. I think Neil has underrated this album because of its negative personal associations. It comes from one of the most prolific, and certainly all-around strongest period of his career, and I think it stands tall with (or only slightly below) his other great albums of this era.
This is the first album of the so-called "Ditch Trilogy," the start of his dark period, and it works as something as curious transition. It still has some of the trappings of Harvest (like the ever present pedal steel), but it sounds like someone took that album, got it drunk, slapped it around for a few minutes and then threw it on stage with its amp turned up to 11. There's a beauty to the music here, not just in ballads like "Love in Mind" and "Journey Through the Past," but in hard rock numbers like the bluesy title track, or the defiant "Don't Be Denied." Only the beauty is buried under a layer of hurt and exhaustion. It's all capped off by the nearly 9-minute "Last Dance," whose seemingly positive lyrics are negated by Neil's tortured howls of "no, no, no" (and eventually, as he drags the song out, to the more surreal, amusing cries of "negative, negative, negative!"). It's a potent combination: an energetic rock album by a man who sounds like he doesn't have any energy left in him.
Rating: A -