Dennis Fine

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On the Beach is so uneven in both concept and delivery that it is more than just disappointing, it is, in many ways, disgraceful. For an artist as stimulating as Young to have lost his way musically for so long is enough reason to believe that he may just not "have it" anymore.

To be sure, there are a few moments of brilliance, even on such a sorry recording. When Young launches into "See the Sky About to Rain," visions of the old talent are readily in evidence. (p. 76)

But a song such as "Walk On" easily upsets this fluid feel. An indictment against those who criticize Young for his lifestyle, "Walk On" is its own tomb-builder. Vaguely disguised in a commercial, uptempo framework, the tune is vapid and totally without any real musical identity.

"Revolution Blues" attempts to recreate the kind of song that Young used to write and perform so well. It has all the trappings of "Southern Man" and "Alabama" … but the riffs are tired, having been worked to the point of boredom for so long. His words, always much clearer in this context, are filled with both realistic images and Dylanesque depictions of sociological distress, but even as a song in the old mold "Revolution Blues" fails because it seems strangely undeveloped, as if Young had greater expectations and was forced to prune it down to the point where it loses whatever cutting edge it might once have possessed. (pp. 76-7)

"Vampire Blues," in which Young is a vampire "sucking the blood from the earth," fails because it remains a one-note song. It goes nowhere because it was designed to have nowhere to go.

The album's title track is one of On the Beach's saving graces. While it too fails to ignite any sparks, its melody is infectious enough to compensate. It sounds as if it should take off into something more aggressive and steel-like….

The album concludes with "Ambulance Blues" which is both musically inspired and lyrically relevant. Young sings that "It's easy to get buried in the past, when you try to make a good thing last." That may be true, but on careful inspection one would have hoped Neil Young, one of the most enigmatic of all contemporary artists, could have blended his past more reasonably with the present. As it is, On the Beach is a bigger mystery than even Neil Young. (p. 77)

Dennis Fine, "Capsule Reviews: 'On the Beach'," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1974 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), October, 1974, pp. 76-7.

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