As this alphabetic odyssey of overlooked albums draws to an end I look back on the last few weeks and have to admit I’ve surprised myself about some of the albums that I’ve selected to celebrate (Billy Joel’s Cold Spring Harbor?) and even discovered a gem that I myself had previously overlooked (the great Songs for the Deaf). Some of the albums are obscure because the artist never achieved the commercial success they deserved to, others are obscure because the artist in question achieved success at a completely different point in their career and it just got lost in the shuffle when the tastemakers came to reassess that musician’s career.
Time Fades Away is obscure for a different reason. It’s an album that’s obscure because the artist that recorded doesn’t like it much.
So what’s with it with Neil Young getting all self-conscious about his 70s output? He didn’t re-release On the Beach until 2003 and he continues to refuse to release Time Fades Away for no good reason other than he doesn’t have happy memories of recording it (does this mean he actually has happier memories recording Tonight’s the Night?). There’s ongoing rumours that Time Fades Away will be part of the next installment of his Archive, but there’s no sign of a release date yet.
Is it really worth the wait though? Having managed to obtain a pristine vinyl copy of the album a few years ago now, it’s apparent that despite Young himself not being fond of this album, it is very much a ‘grower’.
Back in the 70s the scruffy production and live raw sound of Time Fades Away put off Young’s fair-weather fans as it was a world away from the sterile country pop of Harvest. Now, four decades later, it’s a reason to love it. Whereas Harvest is a soft and fluffy ‘safe’ record, Time Fades Away is a wounded beast roaring at an audience that just wanted something cute and cuddly.
Time Fades Away is not as bleak as you may assume an album considered part of ‘The Ditch Trilogy’ would be either, with the opening title track being a reassuringly raw and rocking number that contrasts wonderfully with the pretty “Journey Through the Past” and “The Bridge”, which stand as two of Young’s most tender numbers. It’s this live mix of unpolished rock and fragile balladry that makes this such a strong album, as it flips between these two contrasting aspects of Neil Young’s music better than almost any other album with the exception of the stone cold classics After the Gold Rush and Rust Never Sleeps.
It’s a real shame that Young continues to put the brakes on releasing this album on CD, as not only does it put his best selling album to shame, it’s also easily stronger than both of the albums that followed it.