Monday, April 26, 2010

Time Fades Away

Sounds like it was the tour from hell. Neil was on a massive tour promoting the massively successful Harvest. He was uncomfortable with the level of success he had achieved. Danny Whitten had died from a heroin overdose, and Neil felt responsible (he had fired Whitten from Crazy Horse because his addiction was negatively impacting the band). He was beaten down from life on the road and from the perils of fame. So what's a guy to do but cobble together a live album of unreleased, unpolished, deliberately non-commercial songs as a sort of thumb in the eye of mainstream success?

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 -


Shenan said...

I need to give this one another listen. I listened to it a couple times when you first gave it to me, but largely left it alone after that (I admit, I'm probably more familiar with live versions of songs like "Love in Mind" and "Journey Through the Past" than I am with the originals).

Dan said...

"Time Fades Away" is a live album, so there's not really any studio version of these songs, if that's what you mean. In fact, the other live versions of the songs you mentioned are (I believe) from "Live at Massey Hall," which although just released in the last few years, would have been recorded before "Time Fades Away." So there's no "original" or definitive version of any of these songs.

Shenan said...

oh! ok. i totally did not realize this was live. like i said, it's been a long time since i've listened to it!

Dan said...

I said it was a live album in my post, dork.

Shenan said...

obviously anything you want your readers to take note of you need to write in big bold capital letters. preferably animated so it flashes on and off like a neon sign.