If Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and Ragged Glory are the two finest studio albums Neil Young recorded with Crazy Horse, Zuma certainly qualifies as a close third. Recorded in 1975, Zuma exudes both a sense of focus and a tentative optimism, two qualities that were completely MIA from the bleak Time Fades Away/Tonight's the Night/On the Beach trilogy that preceded it. "Barstool Blues," "Don't Cry No Tears," and "Drive Back" are terse, punchy rockers, while "Danger Bird" and "Cortez the Killer" are extended guitar workouts in the grand Crazy Horse tradition. And the two acoustic entries--"Pardon My Heart" and "Through My Sails" (the latter was recorded with Crosby, Stills & Nash)--are absolutely gorgeous. Ignore the crappy cover art, and treat yourself to one of Young's most underrated records. --Dan Epstein
Review by William Ruhlmann
Having apparently exorcised his demons by releasing the cathartic Tonight's the Night, Neil Young returned to his commercial strengths with Zuma (named after Zuma Beach in Los Angeles, where he now owned a house). Seven of the album's nine songs were recorded with the reunited Crazy Horse, in which rhythm guitarist Frank Sampedro had replaced the late Danny Whitten, but there were also nods to other popular Young styles in "Pardon My Heart," an acoustic song that would have fit on Harvest, his most popular album, and "Through My Sails," retrieved from one of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's abortive recording sessions. Young had abandoned the ragged, first-take approach of his previous three albums, but Crazy Horse would never be a polished act, and the music had a lively sound well-suited to the songs, which were some of the most melodic, pop-oriented tunes Young had crafted in years, though they were played with an electric-guitar-drenched rock intensity. The overall theme concerned romantic conflict, with lyrics that lamented lost love and sometimes longed for a return ("Pardon My Heart" even found Young singing, "I don't believe this song"), though the overall conclusion, notably in such catchy songs as "Don't Cry No Tears" and "Lookin' for a Love," was to move on to the next relationship. But the album's standout track (apparently the only holdover from an early intention to present songs with historical subjects) was the seven-and-a-half-minute epic "Cortez the Killer," a commentary on the Spanish conqueror of Latin America that served as a platform for Young's most extensive guitar soloing since his work on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.