Wednesday, October 11, 2006

In Case You Forgot: Neil Young- Time Fades Away

As big of a Neil Young fan as I claim to be, it's a shame it took so long for me to give Time Fades Away a listen. The story goes like this: After the country-rock perfection of 1972's Harvest made him a superstar, Young went on tour, sans roadie/guitarist Danny Whitten (the guy who trades those awesome staccato guitar licks with Young on "Down By The River"), who died of a drug overdose after Young fired him from the Harvest sessions for excessive drug use. Whitten's death was the motivation behind some of Young's anti-drug rants such as "Needle And The Damage Done" and "Tonight's The Night." It also cast a sense of gloom over the band's next tour, which was marked by the whole band's drug and alcohol abuse, Young's guilt over the death, and crowds that were confused by the band's sloppy, drunken playing and brand new songs. Luckily, the tour was captured for live release, leading to the spectacle that is Time Fades Away.

As intriguing as the backstory is, it's not Whitten's death that make this a vital Neil Young album - it's the incalculable sense of passion in the record. The band seems to constantly teeter on the edge of disaster - the playing is sloppy and off-kilter and Young screams as much as sings. The music exudes a depression, fury and energy not seen on another Young record (though On The Beach and Tonight's The Night would later become Young classics by farming the same dark genius found on this record.) Time Fades Away is the soundtrack of a group of men at the end of their collective ropes, weighed down by guilt and grief and the drugs and alcohol they drowned their problems in.

Neil lost much of his commercial following in these years, but undoubtedly wrote some of his best music. Young's release of a dreary, ragged live album consisting almost entirely of unreleased music while at the height of his commercial success is up there with Dylan's electric 1966 Royal Albert Hall "Judas" concert as one of the better examples we have of an artist following his muse off a cliff. It's sloppy, loud and brash and fueled by depression, poison and self-destruction, just like the best rock and roll.

Neil Young- Don't Be Denied from 1973's Time Fades Away

Neil Young- Love In Mind from 1973's Time Fades Away

Interestingly enough, it is also one of two Young albums that is not available on CD, leading to a fan petition that it be rereleased. Wikipedia says:
Time Fades Away was recorded directly from the soundboard to final 2-track masters using the Quad-8 CompuMix, the first and utterly unreliable digital mixing soundboard--against the wishes of producer David Briggs, who referred to it as the "Compufuck" but was forced to yield to the desires of technophile/audiophile Young. This resulted in a murky-sounding release; because the final mixes were those rough cuts, the album cannot be remixed.
Time Fades Away Petition

This isn't on the album, but I absolutely love this video:


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