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Doom laden masterpeice and Young's finest 40 minutes.
on 18 July 2003
The centrepeice of the so-called Doom trilogy (also featuring the as yet unavailable on CD Time Fades Away and Tonight's the Night) makes it to CD at last, and it's been worth the wait. Long acknowledged as a pivotal album in Young's career, On the Beach is also one of the greatest albums of the mid seventies, rooted in the uncertainties and contradictions of the Nixon era.
It's also a fairly subdued affair, the world weary tempos of much of the album echoing the stoned ennui of the time. This is perfectly encapsulated in the iconic cover shot of Young standing on the edge of the ocean surrounded by the detritus of the disintegrating west coast lifetstyle. Revolution Blues, with its images of bloody fountains and murder, captures the feeling of impending disaster and paranoia endemic in LA after the Manson murders had ended the hippy dream - clearly all was not right in paradise.
For the Turnstiles, with its spare banjo and dobro backing and tense, strained vocal, bemoans the creeping spectre of commerce which was gradually taking over music in the 70s, inspired by the bacchanalian excesses of the 1974 CSN&Y stadium tour. The title track finds Young simultaneously acknowledging the need for adulation even as he recoils from it (I need a crowd of people, but I can't face them day to day) - there's no better emblem for Young's reclusive and enigmatic nature. Walk On, with its jaunty guitar riffs and playful slide playing, is offset by a lyric in which Young hits back at his critics and also looks back to the days before money got in the way of art. This theme of lost innocence also informs the epic closer, Ambulance Blues, one of Young's greatest and most widely analysed compositions.
On the Beach may not be to everyone's taste. For Young fans more enamoured of his Harvest persona of sensitive acoustic troubadour, it may make for difficult listening. It also lacks the full on rock approach of his work with Crazy Horse. However, its ramshackle approach is part of its appeal, matching the world weariness of its lyrical concerns and lending the whole an appealingly live feel.
Why this album has never been released on CD before is quite frankly astonishing, considering the presence of such turkeys as Old Ways and Everybody's Rocking in the racks. Of the latest batch of Young reissues, this is by far the best, followed distantly by the uneven but interesting American Stars'n'Bars. All we need now is for Time Fades Away to come out and the doom trilogy is complete and we can all retreat into our luxury mansions, shut the door and cower in the corner with nothing but the hi-fi, tequila and paranoia for company. Now that's a good night in!