Friday, September 21, 2007

Neil Young - Time Fades Away

Following the immense success of Harvest, Young, as is his wont, made an abrupt left turn. He would do this numerous times throughout his career but, this being the follow-up to his most successful album, it would remain the most (in)famous.

And, characteristically, Time fades Away is one of his finest albums. This is the album on which the Stray Gators transform from an ad hoc collection of studio players into a real band. Recorded live at various stops on the Harvest tour, the album is a collection of new songs played with unfakeable spontaneity by a band that had just learned them. The album is loose, lively, sloppy, passionate and urgent: in short, everything Harvest isn't.

So naturally, the album was out of print for years. When I was discovering Young's catalog in college, this was part of an egregious gap in the CD timeline. No bother if you're a consumer of used vinyl (as was I), but confounding all the same. The album wasn't released domestically on CD until 1999.

It's easy to see why Time didn't sell: it's defiantly anti-commercial. Missed notes and dropped beats abound; the band sound drunk on most of the tracks. And yet that's what makes the performances so great, and what makes this a quintessential (non-Crazy Horse) Neil Young album. This is everything one's ever loved about Young distilled into one glorious mess.

What's strangest about the album's long-time absence from the marketplace is that three of the eight songs have lent their titles to other key elements in the Young canon. "Journey Thru[sic] the Past" was the title of an early live documentary (on which the spelling is corrected to "Through") and accompanying soundtrack album assembled by Young himself. "Don't Be Denied" is the title of a 1993 book which, before the release of Jimmy McDonough's Shakey, served as the de facto definitive biography of Young. And "The Bridge" is the name of the school for physically disabled children founded by Young in the 80s, as well as a Young tribute album whose proceeds were donated to said school.

And yet the album is completely ignored by both Decade and Greatest Hits. In other words, if you're a casual Neil Young fan, many of the albums titles will sound familiar, but none of the songs will.

When choosing tracks for this post, I ran into the opposite problem I faced with Harvest: whereas that album has some average songs and is well-represented on compilations, Time's songs are largely unknown and all of them are great. No exaggeration. I was going to post all three cited above, but "Journey" and "Bridge" are both solo piano ballads, and one will suffice as a representation of the album's sound. "Denied" makes it in a walk, plus I'll go with the title track, one of Young's finest songs. It's his entry in the "Subterranean Homesick Blues"/"It's the End Of the World As We know It"/"We Didn't Start the Fire" genre of non-stop jumble-of-images lyric writing, with some vicious piano work by Jack Nitzsche. I've seen Yo La Tengo cover it more than once and would have loved to post a bootleg of that but I can't find one, so I 'll settle for the original. Believe me, "Yonder Stands the Sinner" and "LA" made this a tough choice.

Just buy this one, trust me. If you're at all interested in Neil Young, you need this album.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Neil Young - "Time Fades Away", "Don't Be Denied" and "The Bridge"

Note: That Amazon link seems to indicate that this album has fallen out of print again! Are you fucking kidding me? What is this world coming to?

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