Thursday, April 26, 2018

Odessey and Oracle - The Zombies

Odessey and Oracle
The Zombies
Big Beat  WIKD 181

This is a 1997 English re-issue of the classic Zombies album originally released on CBS Records in England with lacquers cut from the original tapes.  It sounds terrific.  I saw a concert a couple of years ago where the four surviving members of the band played the album in its entirety from beginning to end.  It was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life, at times my eyes were in tears at the joy of hearing this music live.  As I mentioned in my post on "Time of the Zombies" this music thrilled me when I first heard it as a teenager.  This entire album is on the second record in that album.  For many years I figured that was a good enough format to have it in, especially since original copies of the album were so expensive and hard to find.  Then it started getting re-issued.  I still resisted buying it particularly since I had also acquired it on CD via the "Zombie Heaven" box set.  But ultimately I succumbed, it was just too important to me not to have it by itself.  As a teenager back in the 1970s I mostly learned about pop music from the radio.  At first I listened to top 40 AM radio and then when I finally got an FM radio I listened to album oriented rock, which we now call "classic rock."  Even as a young person I realized that this music was mostly crude and idiotic.  I heard an endless stream of stupidity that drove me back to the music of the 1960s.  In retrospect there was plenty of intelligent music in the 1970s, I just wasn't hearing it on the radio.  It was much later that I heard groups like Big Star, Roxy Music, King Crimson and Sparks.  That is why when I heard this album, it blew me away.  It was so unlike anything I had ever heard, even my beloved Beatles.  At first I didn't even know what to make of it, the lyrics were so unusual and the music was so delicate.  I was almost embarrassed that I loved it so much, it was so different from the music that my friends liked.  But ultimately I didn't care, this record spoke to me like no other.  I treasured it.  It is a flawless masterpiece, 12 brilliant and diverse songs that convey experiences and feelings with unwavering intelligence.  It begins with Rod Argent's upbeat "Care of Cell 44" which joyously recounts a person looking forward to the return of their imprisoned lover.  Swelling mellotron lines and a big bouncy bass riff drive this engaging song which also features a sweet vocal from Colin Blunstone supported by very appealing background vocals.  Somehow this song stiffed when it was released as a single but I find it endlessly enticing.  The record shifts gears for the melancholy of Argent's "A Rose For Emily," a tale of loneliness delivered with a sensitive vocal from Blunstone supported by simple piano accompaniment from Argent.  Chris White's "Maybe After He's Gone" displays a stimulating soft/loud dynamic with an atmospheric arrangement that expresses the confused emotions depicted in the lyrics.  White's "Beechwood Park" is a beautiful nostalgic song enhanced by a chamber pop arrangement that gives it extra resonance.  White also wrote "Brief Candles" which is one of the songs that most impressed me when I first heard this record.  The song's poetic portrait of a disintegrating relationship still sends me and I admire the exhilarating shifts from the piano driven chamber pop of the verses to the soaring mellotron bolstered choruses.  White, Blunstone and Argent all take turns at the mike.  Side one concludes with Argent's "Hung Up On a Dream."  This album is sometimes labeled as being psychedelic which I don't think is true, but this song is definitely in that vein.  The impressionistic lyrics are hallucinogenic and the dreamy music is driven by jangly guitars and surging mellotron runs.  The evocative lead vocal gives credibility to the flower power imagery of the lyrics and the beautiful background vocals enhance the atmosphere of the song in the best British psychedelic style.  This has always been one of my favorite Zombies tracks and when I first got "Time of the Zombies," I played this song over and over.  Side two opens with White's "Changes" which is a gloomy chamber pop track lamenting the changes money has made in a woman the singer used to know.  It is particularly notable for the elaborate ensemble vocal arrangement in the choruses.  The record perks up with Argent's ebullient "I Want Her She Wants Me."  The song is so catchy that it verges on sunshine pop and it inevitably perks me up when I hear it.  This is equally true of White's "This Will Be Our Year" which should have been a hit single.  The song's sunny optimism, cheerful piano runs and Blunstone's heartfelt vocal it make it the emotional highlight of the album.  The album takes a darker turn with White's creepy "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)."  It is an anti-war song with lyrics that vividly evoke the horrors of World War I sung by White in a shaky voice that conveys the pain expressed by the song.  It is driven by Argent's ghostly harmonium playing adding to the menace of the lyrics.  The song shocked me when I heard it as a teen and I still find it very powerful.  When I saw the band performing it live, White's vocal gave me chills.  Sunshine pop returns with White's jubilant "Friends of Mine" which celebrates the romances of the couples that the singer knows.  This charming song also should have been a hit single.  The album concludes with the band's actual hit single, Argent's "Time of the Season."  As you probably know the song has a hypnotic melody punctuated by Argent's jazzy keyboard runs which rank among the finest instrumental work in his Zombie career.  It is an outstanding finish to an outstanding album.  This record is now 50 years old but it still sounds fresh and innovative to me.  I loved it in my youth and I love it just as much now.  I consider it one of the most influential and important albums in my life.  I'm so grateful that I stumbled across that copy of "Time of the Zombies" all those years ago and decided to take a chance on it.  Hearing this album opened my eyes to the artistic potential of pop music and along with the Beatles changed my life for the better.  Recommended to people who believe that good music should have something to say.