Classic Rock Review

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Neil Young Zuma (1975)


This seems to be when Neil Young started to really take the form of the Godfather of Grunge … He lets the guitars get sloppy. All over the place, there’s slop!!! Of course, that’s a fitting sound for him since his voice is so ugly. I love the guitars, for the most part, but underneath it all, it’s a musically average album for Young. There seems to be an intrinsic lack of memorable melodic ideas, and the arrangements aren’t very compelling (some moments and ideas just seem bad, frankly).

Apart from those fuzzy guitars, there’s nothing particularly unique about this album… It’s a lot tamer than Tonight’s the Night though just about as disciplined (and not as imaginative) as On the Beach. I’m just not thrilled with any of this… There’s a lot of grit though not enough real spirit… I take a very ho-hum attitude with Zuma.

That said, remember who we’re dealing with here. All in all, it’s quite excellent, and the weak spots are few. The guy is genuine, and you have to give him credit for getting away with such a voice and not really giving a crap about how pretty it is. He sings his songs the way he wants, and he comes off like he means it. His lyrics aren’t exactly Dylanesque, but the earnestness definitely counts for something! Though none of that forgives the fact that Zuma is musically a step down, and the music is where it counts for me, by golly!

The album opener is a mid-tempo and rather normal rocker “Don’t Cry No Tears.” It’s certainly one of the stronger and more pieces with a very brief running time, likable melody, thoughtful lyrics and modestly sloppy guitars. Can’t say I like it enough to put it on my next mix tape, but … well, it’s nice! “Danger Bird” is entertaining though plagued a bit by its unnecessary seven-minute running length. That said, the ballad “Cortez the Killer” is also seven minutes long and actually very good and even somewhat endearing.

It opens with a four-minute melodic guitar solo and then Young delivers what’s probably the best melody of the album. I like “Barstool Blues” even if it’s rather inconsequential. The melody is good and Young’s weak-weak-weak vocals are kind of funny. It’s enjoyable, at least. “Stupid Girl” is also well done with interesting structure, but I don’t think that one turned out particularly well.

This album surely would have scored higher had Young kept “Lookin’ For a Love” and “Through My Sails” off. The former, especially. It’s a generic country ballad. And when I say “generic,” I mean that it’s GENERIC. There’s nothing original about it, not even a little bit. Apparently, it was meant for a Harvest clone that he recorded but never released… It would have sucked on that album, too, but here it’s worse. It doesn’t fit the rest of the material, which makes it stick out like a sore thumb. Horrible. (Actually, it’s not the world’s worst ditty… I just like to pick on it.)

“Through My Sails,” though not such a bad song in itself, was the worst thing he could have ended the album with. The problem with it is not just it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the material, but it’s boring. Zzzz!

So, that’s Zuma according to me. Essential for the fans, but anyone else can take it or leave it.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Zuma | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Zuma (1975)


Released in 1975, it was the second effort Neil co-shared with the Crazy horse. Only five years had passed since “Everybody knows this is nowhere”, but it felt like centuries…

The dreams of the Woodstock generation had faded into the abyss of the Seventies, with their political disappointment, heroin- fuelled dimensions and lost companions.

The man from Ontario broke through the desolation of his “doom trilogy”, in which he had transformed his demons in cathartic, awesome and uncompromising music, demonstrating that he had not been overwhelmed by despair. The following step was obvious: riding again on the “crazy horse” to shake off sadness, sentimental and political failures and post-hippy depression in order to release a classic, guitar-driven record.

Having replaced Danny Whitten ( R.I.P.: “but every junkie is like a setting sun…” ) with rhythmic guitarist Poncho Sampedro, the californian garage band makes an outstanding backing up of Neil. The sound of “Zuma” is raw and anthemic , being mainly focused on the links between guitars: feedback and distorsions are intertwined, thus moving a step closer toward the creation of that “electric guitar-drenched dimension” – showcasing a perfectly balanced interplay between the two guitars – which will reach its zenith on the electric side of “Rust never sleeps”, therefore inspiring the grunge generation through bands like Dinosaur jr, Sonic Youth and Pixies.

“Cortez the killer” is undoubtedly the core of “Zuma”, as well as being one of the most celebrated songs of the 70’s. Everything is perfect in this seven and a half minutes epic: Poncho’s steady patterns, Neil’s extensive solos, Billy Talbot sticky bass lines and the excellent drumming of Ralph Molina, both soft and nervous. Neil’s vocals as well are noteworthy, as he depicts the bloody conquest of Mexico from the native point of view, even if the lyricism is not as pure as in “Pocahontas”, the result is nonetheless powerful. Neil’s own pre-colombian America may be filled with rethoric (“Hate was just a legend/ War was never known”: that was definetly untrue), but the magic of images he evokes is simply alluring.

“Danger bird” is another highlight: Neil and the horses ride through an obscure guitar maelstrom, whereas the light-hearted “Stupid girl” and “Drive back” feature amazing bluesy riffs and solos. In songs like “Don’t cry no tears”, “Barstool blues” and the country-tinged “Lookin’ for a love” the guitar power is instead mellowed by beautiful melodies, so as to create some wonderful and catchy tunes.

“Lookin’ for a love” in particular is a great song with its late-Byrds flavour, and it perfectly illustrates the mood of the album. Neil walks alone in Zuma Beach, and even if in its sandy shores he’s not as helpless as he was on the cover of “On the Beach”, the Loner provides bittersweet lyrics like “Lookin’ for a love that’s right for me / I don’t know how long it’s gonna be/ But I hope I treat her kind and don’t mess with her mind/ When she starts to see the darker side of me”.

Since we have defined “Zuma” a classic record, there obviously must be Neil’s trademark: the Ballad. “Pardon my heart” is a tender folk number, strengthened by an electric solo. Neil’s lyrics here are shimmering. He cynically points out “ I don’t believe this song”, but then admits “ Pardon my heart If I showed that I Cared/ But I love you more than moments We have or have not shared”. The closing track instead – surpringly an outtake from a session with Crosby, Stills, Nash – is “Through my sails”. A breezy jewel, with the classic West Coast vocal harmonies which perfectly fit in a graceful melody, while superb lyrics like “I’m standing on the shoreline /It’s so fine out there /Leaving with the wind blowing /But love takes care” are a picture-perfect ending for “Zuma”.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Zuma | | Leave a comment