The Zombies - Odessey and Oracle
OK... I know I haven’t posted for a month... and it’s rude to start a weblog and then never post... but I can change, i mean it!
How about we start at the top, with a classic, perhaps the most famous classic in all the world of music...
Well maybe it’s just me, then...
See I always go through phases, every listener does! and for the last 18 months its been a Zombies phase!
The Zombies were 60’s beat group from St Albans in the UK, who began their musical career by winning a London Evening Standard competition to find the ‘new’ Beatles. They were built around the songwriting partnership of Rod Argent (Keyboards) and Chris White (bass). Their first single became a huge success in the US and became associated with the British invasion, where they were the second British group of the 60's to score a #1 hit record. ‘She’s not there’ didn’t do quite so well in the UK and only reached the number 12 spot. Their third single ‘Tell Her No’ held a similar fate scoring a top ten placing in the US chart, yet strangely failing to make the top 40 in the UK. (see This Fan Page)
The next four years would find the Zombies on the brink of being dropped by Decca their UK label, only managing to keep their contract by recording superb singles. By 1967 The Zombies were disillusioned and on the verge of break-up….
And then as if by magic!
Well no… they still broke up, but not before recording one of the most underrated albums of all time, a classic slab of pure pop perfection, a milestone in popular music Odessey and Oracle.
So is it that good?
Well yes it is! Three words describe it 'strange yet wonderful'. A good record or film is the one which leaves you feeling like you’ve just spent your time doing something worth while, something engaging. Odessey and Oracle does this every time and the key reason for me is the extremes of emotion to which it is able to carry me and still maintain my interest. Its strange, difficult, challenging, moody and also catchy, uplifting, and brilliant.
Take the opener ‘Care of Cell 44’ (regularly covered by Elliott Smith). It is the catchiest pop song this side of the Beatles ‘Revolver’ and yet it’s just… well… odd! It begins quite normally with a delicious build up, each individual instrument making its own mark, from the ‘cutest’ of piano riffs, joined by a crashing drum beat and a bass line that can’t help but make you smile. However, when Colin Blunstone starts singing you suddenly realize that this is like nothing you might have heard on 'Revolver'. The lyrics for a start:
Good morning to you, I hope your feeling better baby/
Thinking of me while you are far away/
Counting the days until they set you set you free again/
Writing this letter hoping your O.K/
Saved you the room you used to stay in every Sunday/
The one that is warmed by sunshine every day/
And well get to know each other for a second time/
Then you an tell me about your prison stay/
The song confuses on many levels. Who is singing the song? Colin Blunstone waiting for a lover to come home from prison? in which case is it a man or a woman? Or is it a woman waiting for a man to come home? Or is it an even more abstract musing on the modern relationship being like a prison, with Blunstone as the partner/prison guard setting up the room at home? Then just when you’ve let your guard down, ‘that’ chorus comes along and whips the top off your already befuddled head… strange and yet wonderful see !
Other strange yet wonderful things pop up all over this album… The skewed ‘Rose for Emily’ sounding like a deeper more profound 'Eleanor Rigby'. When Colin Blunstone’s silky-smooth vocals are offset by a choir of angels in the chorus guiding ‘Emily’ towards her end it sounds like heaven. The psychedelic treat which is ‘Beechwood Park’ and ‘Hung up on a dream’, has Blunstone sounding icy and detached, while his fellow Zombies splutter lysergic crescendos around him. ‘This will be our year’ is deceptive in its simple perfection, and just plain sexy. And the oddity which is ‘Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914)’ sounding like something pinched from a stage musical in which a gothic pump organ surrounds an almost frenzied Blunstone, who narrates the twisted tale of the ‘Butcher’, a soldier in World War one who sees no difference between the war time slaughter and his work back at home.
‘Time of the season’ finishes the album. It feels huge, lush and extravagant, almost cinematic in its scope and yet a closer listen finds the same sparse arrangements that characterise the rest of the album, built up around Blunstones 'cool', 'hip', whispers and moans. It builds to the grooviest dirtiest organ solo never to grace a Doors record and would have made the great Ray Manzerek proud. This perfect three and a half minutes of pop was eventually issued as a single after the albums release and ended the Zombies four year absence form the charts. With another Top 5 hit in the US (still no love in the UK) CBS began begging The Zombies to reform, by which time the band had been parted for over 12 months and Rod Argent moved onto new projects. An ironic and yet fitting end to one of the most severely underrated albums, by one of the most overlooked bands in pop music history.