Don't Cry No Tears / Danger Bird / Pardon My Heart / Lookin' for a Love / Barstool Blues / Stupid Girl / Drive Back / Cortez the Killer / Through My Sails
by Jeff Dove
"If I could hold on to just one thought for long enough to know / Why my mind is moving so fast and the conversation is slow"
- from "Barstool Blues"
Zuma is the first record with the current and long-standing version of Crazy Horse (Billy Talbot - bass, Ralph Molina - drums, and Frank Sampedro - guitar). The record's sound is laid out in a way that places it on a continuum that includes Rust Never Sleeps, Live Rust, Re-ac-tor, Ragged Glory. and Weld in the future (as well as a few selected cuts here and there on other albums, most notably "Like a Hurricane" from American Stars 'n' Bars). With Poncho joining Neil on guitar, the band developed a style that I believe allowed him to create his best music over the years. Previous Crazy Horse collaborations had power, but Zuma is the beginning of the balance of raw playing and a clean sound, featuring a perfectly balanced interplay between the two guitars. Similar to Big Star in the early seventies or Television in the late seventies, there is an amplified noise which doesn't let up on the energy, but is not overwhelming or excessive. The previous Neil Young and Crazy Horse collaboration, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, from the early solo days, featured Danny Whitten's playing, but Whitten's death brought about a six-year hiatus in the Horse's appearances as Young's backing band on a complete record. Zuma signals their return, and this record introduces the sound that gives Neil his "Godfather of Grunge" title. If Zuma has a lyrical theme, it is one of romantic rejection, loneliness, hope, and despair. From song to song, it seems to have been written by a man who has just been dumped. and might even be still harboring a bit of hostility; but on the other hand. he longs for a return to what he once had. The opening two high-energy songs set this theme. From the musically upbeat "Don't Cry No Tears":
"Well I wonder who's with her tonight / And I wonder who's holding her tight / But there's nothing I can say, to make him go away..."
"Danger Bird" isn't as abrupt in its words, but it is a heavy, searing tune with an anguished tone to both the vocals and the guitar solos that continues the emotion without putting it into words. Not every track is a full-on electric work out, and side one takes a respite from this, in varying degrees. with its third and fourth tracks. "Pardon My Heart" finds Neil with his acoustic, and its plea is one of the most straightforward:
"Pardon my heart if I show that I care / But I love you more than moments , we have or have not shared"
"Lookin' for a Love" presents a return to the electric guitar, but the distortion is down and the country-rock beat is up. Again, the lyrical theme of the album is pursued:
"I've been lookin' for a lover but I haven't met her yet..."
And then, the telling chorus:
"Lookin' for a love that's right for me / I don't know how long its 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"
It's a fatalistic response to the earlier, "Is it strange I should change I don't know, why don't you ask her" line from the Buffalo Springfield song "Mr. Soul." "Barstool Blues" kicks side one back into high gear. It is a raging rocker, littered with wry observations and clever comments like the quote which began this review, and is Zuma's best song. More relationship-based angst can be found in the verse, such as:
"He trusted in a woman, and on her he made his bet"
"And I saw you in my nightmares, but I'll see you in my dreams / And I might live a thousand years before I know what that means"
The second side begins much as the first did, with some loud Crazy Horse intensity. However both "Stupid Girl" and "Drive Back" are centered less around longing and are more bitter and angry. The title to "Stupid Girl" tips off its message. When the Stones used this title on Aftermath for a different song, it was to dismiss a woman for her superficiality and justified one of Jagger's misogynist poses. Neil's song seems based on a more personal disgust. On a musical level, listen as Neil harmonizes with himself on some verses, singing in both his more usual voice and in the higher tone he utilizes on occasion. "Drive Back" is one of the album's hardest rockers, and accompanying its guitar attack are more words of angry dismissal:
"Drive back to your old town / I want to wake up with no one around"
The familiar "Cortez the Killer" continues the sound that has been prevalent over the course of Zuma. Neil's and Poncho's guitars play off of each other in an intricate and exciting manner. The music builds from subtle beauty through an extended instrumental intro, to become more amplified and intense as the song's story of the bloody aftermath of the arrival of imperialist conquerors becomes more intense. The theme of "Cortez" is obviously quite distinct from that which Zuma has been occupied with up to this point, but stuck into a refrain and the end of the song can be found these seemingly unrelated lines:
"And I know she's living there, and she loves me to this day / I still can't remember when, or how I lost my way"
"Through My Sails" is a knock-off with Crosby, Stills, Nash and their acoustic guitars. It's only average and, compared to the rest of the album, is a bit of a let down. Neil was probably throwing a bone to the trio, who by this time had already demonstrated their lack of any ability to create anything worthwhile without Young along for the ride. If you're partial to the harder edge of Neil Young's music, Zuma is an important stage in his development; if your tastes run toward the sounds of loud electric guitars zealously playing.