After aborting a reunion album with Crosby, Stills and Nash and ending his difficult relationship with actress Carrie Snodgrass, Neil Young reformed Crazy Horse with guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro replacing the deceased Danny Whitten. The result, named after the beach it was recorded at, is Young’s most relaxed, sunniest album for quite some time; while there’s venom, presumably directed at Snodgrass, in songs like ‘Stupid Girl’ and ‘Drive Back’, generally Zuma is one of Young’s least introspective records. Instead, he lets his guitar take centre stage on extended workouts like ‘Cortez The Killer’ and ‘Danger Bird’, while acoustic songs like ‘Pardon My Heart’ and the Crosby, Stills and Nash leftover ‘Through My Sails’ also contribute to the more relaxed feel. Zuma isn’t as substantial as his best works, and it often fills the role of fan favourite in his discography from enthusiasts wanting to avoid clichéd choices like After The Goldrush or Tonight’s The Night.
The centrepiece on Zuma is the seven and a half minutes of ‘Cortez The Killer’, with lyrics showing Young’s fascination with native American cultures and an extended guitar workout. According to urban legend, a power cut occurred halfway through recording, before quickly coming back on, meaning that a fabled middle part of the song is absent and that the final product is a result of the beginning and the middle being spliced together. The acoustic folk of ‘Pardon My Heart’ is the other standout here, with its sparse acoustic arrangement where the monotone backing vocals of Talbot and Molina provide an effective counterpoint for Young’s heartfelt whine. The upbeat country rock of ‘Lookin’ For A Love’ is symptomatic of Young’s renewed optimism, while ‘Barstool Blues’ and ‘Don’t Cry No Tears’ are memorable riff rockers.
Zuma is a very representative Neil Young album, and it’s solidly enjoyable even if it’s not quite first rate.