Neil Young DAISANN McLANE - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Comes a Time is Neil Young's gentlest record since After the Gold Rush….

At first listening, the simplicity of the music makes Comes a Time seem wimped-out. It's not. Usually, Neil Young is most compelling for his musical excess…. Comes a Time, though, stands on its songs, not on the sound; Young has substituted a lyrical chaos for the musical one. What keeps you listening is not so much what's here, but what's left out of the half-realized sentences and shifting imagery.

Comes a Time was originally called Human Highway—a much better title for an album so concerned with passages of life and the ties that bind. Young seems to be a traveller on some two-lane umbilical cord; one direction carries him back through the womb to the beginning of time "when fire filled the air"; the other leads him to the uncertainty of love and permanency of fatherhood. Young's most successful songs create the feeling of connection through disconnection, using jump-cut images that flow with all the linear logic of a child's show and tell. "Look Out for My Love," a beautifully scary song about the helplessness of passion, starts out with an ominous warning ("There's a heart that burns / There's an open mind / Look out for my love") and ends with a wrenching word-picture that communicates the ache of longing without referring to it at all ("Hydraulic wipers pumping / Till the window glistens / Something saying something / No one seems to listen").

Unfortunately, when Young speaks directly to his concerns, he fumbles; his third-person homily on "Lotta Love," and his solipsistic wandering on "Already One" both bog down….

In the end, the most moving thing about Neil Young's Comes a Time is that it shows a willingness to persevere even in the most hopeless circumstances.

Daisann McLane, "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1978 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), August, 1978, p. 72.