Time Fades Away, the album that has been out-of-print for years and now considered the Holy Grail of Neil Young albums by fans, was recorded live during Neil’s 90-day tour with backing band the Stray Gators in support of Harvest, his landmark country-rock classic. Though a live album, Time Fades Away features only new tracks, then considered un-thought of for a hit artist like Young, and was panned by critics, fans and Neil himself and deemed a completely un-commercial follow-up to his previous smash hit. While Harvest was popular because of it’s quaint, listener-friendly arrangements, ‘Time Fades Away’ sounds more like his early work with Crazy Horse, featuring blazing guitars and raw vocals.
Despite it’s huge contrast to Harvest and failed commercial turn-out, ‘Time Fades Away’ is not a bad album, it simply has a bad reputation as a mediocre follow-up and the fact that barely anybody’s heard it doesn’t help. The rawness and darkness of this album is attributed to the death of Danny Whitten, Neil’s longtime friend and Crazy Horse guitarist in late 72’, in what people call Neil’s “Ditch Period” or his “Doom Period” consisting of this album, ‘74s ‘On The Beach’ and ‘75s ‘Tonight’s The Night’. The music during this period was dark, despairing and at times depressing, but still as strong as ever.
The album kicks off well with the title track, a fast-paced and country-sounding rocker. Jack Nitzsche’s piano and the driving beat really stand out and there are prominent backing vocals everywhere but the verses. The song is not bad by all means, and it is one of my favorites on the album, though it does get a bit repetitive towards the end. It isn’t until the ending that you realize that this is a live album, and after a bit of applause we are whisked off to Public Hall, Cleveland for Journey Thru The Past, “a song without a home” Neil Young explains. The song is a solo piano number that sounds very similar to ‘After The Goldrush’, a sad piano part with a despairing vocal telling of Neil’s wishes to return to the past and all the good times. Coincidentally, ‘Journey Through The Past’ is the also the title of a Neil directed film and album, the only other one besides this one that has yet to warrant a compact disc release.
Next, it’s off to Seattle with Yonder Stands The Sinner, a loud, distorted rocker just like something off Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere or Live At The Fillmore East, only shorter. Neil’s voice is quite distorted in this song, but it sounds great as he sings about, well, a sinner haunting him! It’s a fun, heavy song, and a very catchy one at that, but it seems to end before you can get into it at only three minutes. A similar song, L.A., follows from Oklahoma City. It’s slower than ‘Yonder Stands…’ but the lyrics get darker, this time telling of the low points of Los Angeles and how he wishes it would die in a sort of apocalypse with “the mountains erupt and the valleys sucked into the cracks of the earth” (I can imagine the folks in LA weren’t to pleased ;p). L.A. sounds a bit like ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’, which also combines heavy, fat riffs with sly lyrics and clean guitar licks here and there, and it works. After L.A. comes Love In Mind from back in 1971 at the same concert where ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ was cut, when all was well and huge success was imminent. Love In Mind is short, really short, and it is another nice piano ballad. It’s a nice break from the two dark, heavy rockers preceding it, as the words are less dark, but still pretty sad with lyrics like:
Man made rules
been holdin' back my love
Can't hold it back no more.
Churches long preach sex is wrong
Jesus where is nature gone?
What am I doing here?
What am I doing here?
What am I doing here?
Side two starts with perhaps the best song on the album (as voted be listeners and my own personal preference), Don’t Be Denied. Ben Keith’s slide guitar shows up here, being buried in the mix in the songs on side one and Graham Nash and David Crosby show up on guitars and vocals. The lyrics tell of Neil Young’s life, from his childhood to the pains and his resentment of his current stardom, saying “I’m a pauper in a naked disguise, a millionaire through a businessman’s eyes”. The chorus is catchy, and the song as a whole has a sort of anthem-like fell, like a protest chant, but it’s not. Following is The Bridge, yet another short and sad piano ballad about Neil’s bridge of love being slowly built and eventually falling (at least from what I understand though). It cuts off abruptly at 3 minute mark like the other piano songs on the album, leaving you surprised, but satisfied.
Finishing off Time Fades Away is Last Dance (fitting eh?). Last Dance is an extended 8 minute epic, heavy like the others, and very grungy (if that’s even a word). It’s an awesome song, like other Neil Young closers Words and Cowgirl In The Sand, and it’s very menacing sounding, with lots of vocal help from Nash, Crosby and Keith, everybody trading solos before it’s explosive climax. The album ends with the crowd cheering enthusiastically as Neil screams “LAST DANCE!” right before the quick fade-out.
While Time Fades Away is not a popular or acclaimed as Neil Young’s other works, it is by far not a bad album. Though it is long out-of-print with no CD release planned as of 2007, you can still get this amazing and revealing chapter in Neil repertoire through bootlegs, eBay or downloads. Time Fades Way is a must for any Neil fan, rare or not, and it is worth the listen, and a great addition to any record (and hopefully CD) collection.
5/5 stars *****