This review originally ran in Rolling Stone as part of a series that looked back at classic albums.
Quiet and sweetly melodic, Neil Young’s Comes a Time felt like folly in punk-drunk 1978 but has since become one of his most timeless and easy-to-love works, a brief but immaculate CD. It’s a magic fluke in other ways. Although Comes a Time was recorded at six studios with four producers and dozens of players, the simple, unified sound suggests Young strumming his guitar in a room with just a couple of other musicians. The song “Lotta Love,” for example, is as minimal as the Ramones. The dream-world reverie “Goin’ Back” makes no literal sense but announces that Young feels shook up and restless and has returned to the oasis of folk music.
“Look Out for My Love” takes the weariest theme of Seventies rock — the on-the-road lament — and makes it a free-floating anxiety attack tinged with fear, longing and a whisper of menace. “Motorcycle Mama” has to be the most amiable heroin tune ever done (“Motorcycle Mama, won’t you lay your big spike down/Always get in trouble when you bring it around”) and a fine showcase for the late singer Nicolette Larson. Young nods to his roots in several ways with “Four Strong Winds,” originally by the Canadian folk duo Ian and Sylvia and inspired by Bob Dylan. Like most of Comes a Time, the song is about taking shelter from troubles and going out to face them again. Although Young has a hard time nowadays recapturing such poise, Comes a Time itself provides a steady haven in dark times, which are usually on the way.