After the bleakness of the so-called Ditch Trilogy (Time Fades Away, On the Beach, Tonight’s the Night), Zuma rolls in like a breeze. The songs are simple, the arrangements direct, and the mood light even when the music gets heavy (“Danger Bird,” “Cortez the Killer”). None of the cynicism of Tonight’s the Night or price-of-fame angst of On the Beach—just four guys in a beach house, stoned. Guitarist Frank Sampedro, who’d only recently joined Crazy Horse, said he figured Young was making the songs easier because Sampedro had been having trouble playing them. Laugh: It’s funny. But it also affirms the argument in Young’s music that things don’t have to be polished to have feeling—and, if anything, that polish and complexity hide truths that simplicity and spontaneity reveal. So, while the album might’ve been considered hard rock in 1975, its real legacy is in the indie rock of the mid- to late ’90s: Pavement (“Barstool Blues”), Built to Spill (“Cortez the Killer”), Dinosaur Jr., Will Oldham/Palace (“Through My Sails”)—music whose sloppy elegance takes listeners places precision can’t. And it presaged a rough pattern Young followed for decades: some self-conscious, thought-out stuff followed by an unassuming reset where he seemed to flush everything out and start blank (think Hawks & Doves and Ragged Glory, Prairie Wind and Barn). An interviewer later asked if Young ever got pictures in his mind while playing epics like “Danger Bird.” Sometimes, Young said—but mostly it’s just flapping.

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