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"This will be our year, took a long time to come"
|Main Category:||Lush Pop|
|Also applicable:||Psychedelia, Rhythm & Blues|
|Starting Period:||The Early Years|
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The Zombies, I think, are one of those few bands whose "critical restoration" over the years has been fully justified. Way too often, you get obscure bands like Love or obscure artists like Nick Drake pulled out of near-complete oblivion and blown up to enormous proportions just because they happen to be good artists that you can rave about without that naggin' sour feeling you develop towards better artists who you're simply sick of because of their media-saturation. I mean, come on, Love and Nick Drake are good, very good even, but there's a lot of "snobby" muck stuck to their heels already - way too often, I get the feeling people are ready to put them on the pedestal just because this makes these people feel "different".With the Zombies, I feel a little "different" from merely "feeling different"! Heh heh. First of all, these guys were no bandwagon-riders. They were right there at the very beginning of the British Invasion, and for a while, they were in the friggin' avantgarde of that invasion. As early as 1964, they were writing songs that no-one else was writing: their early hits like 'She's Not There' and 'Tell Her No' were harmonically and melodically more complex than the best Beatles stuff, and just as catchy and emotional. The band's main creative force, keyboardist Rod Argent (although bassist Chris White was just as productive when it came to songwriting), practically redefined the use of the organ back then, playing witty, sophisticated riffs and solos and showcasing his classical music influences way before art-rock came along. In this way, the Zombies weren't followers; they were leaders. Unfortunately, the commercial tide turned against them sometime in mid-1965, and after the two hits namechecked above they started releasing flop after flop. For what reason, I cannot fathom; many of these singles are great. Maybe "mannered" baroque-pop was simply going out of fashion, what with the Stones and the Who setting the trends of the epoch; on the other side, the tremendous disadvantage of the Zombies was that they never really knew how to make good old fashioned rawk-n-roll, and whenever they tried anything of the sort, they almost uniformly failed (presaging many a similar failure among the regular art-rock crowds - hey, classically-influenced elitism and having a good ol' headbangin' time don't exactly go hand in hand). In any case, the band just simply fizzled away in the end because they couldn't make ends meet. The Zombies didn't have time, or financial, possibilities, for much: their debut album is extremely flawed due to an abundance of inferior covers, their singles were scattered, and the only LP they made that really matters, Odessey And Oracle, went practically unnoticed on the market due to lack of proper promotion and other what-not. (Perversely enough, though, the 'Time Of The Season' single from the record went on to become a smash hit already after the group had broken up). Rod Argent eventually ended up in a prog-rock band bearing his own name, but that's a different story that deserves its own page; suffice it to say here that, as good as the band Argent was, it never did set any trends or serve as an influence, unlike the original Zombies. Odessey And Oracle is never hailed as the greatest record of all time, and the Zombies are never called the greatest band of all time. That's good. That helps them not to suffer from too much "anti-hype" (see the Beach Boys to know what I mean), and at the same time they are recognized nowadays as a force to be reckoned with. I myself like them a lot, even if they do have things going against them. Like I already said, they never could rock; their output is essentially formulaic, and they rarely took any brave risks to step away from the formula; Rod Argent is an excellent keyboardist, but not a virtuoso (although that only acts as a real complaint for his Argent period, since playing progressive rock certainly requires ten times as much professional skill as playing pure pop); none of the other band members were ever too good at their instruments; and lead vocalist Colin Blunstone's voice is fine and pretty, but has limited possibilities. On the other hand, Argent and White were among the best melodists of their epoch - bar the Beatles and maybe the Kinks, I would be hard pressed to find anybody who could rival these two in the Sixties. Singles, album tracks, whatever: these guys knew how to make a hook, and how to make that hook really ring out so it could capture your heart wholesale. And formula or no formula, they had a sound all their own - lush, romantic, baroque, call it whatever you like, but no one really sounded like the Zombies until art-rockers of the Procol Harum variety came along. And their taking no serious risks ensures that, "rockers" apart, you really can't go wrong with the Zombies. Normally, they either made a song good or they didn't make it all. Technical note. The Zombies' discography is one of the universe's worst nightmares, up there with the Yardbirds and Manfred Mann. Odessey And Oracle is understandable, but it's always very hard to determine where to go from there. Fortunately, the situation is now much more helpful, with the availability of an excellent compilation: The Decca Stereo Anthology, which gathers practically everything the Zombies released prior to Odessey, including all of the Begin Here LP and all of the 1964-66 singles, plus outtakes and whatnot. If you also manage to scoop up one of those Odessey reissues that has bonus tracks (preferrably the "multi-"bonus track edition that appends all of their late period singles as well), you're pretty much set. Lineup: Rod Argent - keyboards, vocals; Chris White - bass, vocals; Colin Blunstone - lead vocals; Paul Atkinson - guitar; Hugh Grundy - drums. Funny that there were no changes in the lineup despite all the hard times the band had. True friendship? Man, those were the days.
Listenability: 5/5. Pretty
much everything these guys did is listenable, even if not all of it good.
Resonance: 4/5. Occasional pomposity can turn some people off, but overall, it's one of their main strengths.
Originality: 3/5. One-trick pony here - adding classically influenced organ flourishes - but a very important pony.
Adequacy: 3/5. I can't disregard their pathetic attempts at "rocking out", can I?
Diversity: 2/5. Not a lot, by all means. Keyboard pop and... keyboard pop?
Overall: 3.4 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1965Record rating = 7
Burning question number one: if you got everything working BUT your mojo, why concentrate on the mojo?Best song: SHE'S NOT THERE
Track listing: 1) Road Runner; 2) Summertime; 3) I Can't Make Up My Mind; 4) The Way I Feel Inside; 5) Work 'n' Play; 6) You Really Got A Hold On Me/Bring It On Home To Me; 7) She's Not There; 8) Sticks And Stones; 9) Can't Nobody Love You; 10) Woman; 11) I Don't Want To Know; 12) I Remember When I Loved Her; 13) What More Can I Do; 14) I Got My Mojo Working; [BONUS TRACKS:] 15) It's Alright With Me; 16) Sometimes; 17) Kind Of Girl; 18) Tell Her No; 19) Sticks And Stones (alternate take); 20) It's Alright With Me (alternate take); 21) I Know She Will; 22) I'll Keep Trying.
The liner notes to the album's CD re-issue, packed with bonus tracks (which is the one I'm rating because they sure punch up the album's value, but read more on that below), picture a funny set of the band members' photos counting their O- and A-levels, all subtitled "Are They Britain's Brainiest Beat Group?". Well, judging by their looks alone, they certainly are, what with Chris White and Paul Atkinson sporting totally Oxfordian profiles and the three spectacle-deprived members not really falling too far behind. This is what makes it so particularly stupid and irritating when you intelligently insert the CD, don your favourite pair of white silk gloves to push the 'play' button, and comfortably settle down in your big family armchair by the fireplace - all that just to hear an inept amateurish ragged scream welcoming you with the words 'I'm a roadrunne-e-e-e-er' after the best manner of a disembowelled goat?..Indeed, the "cover curse", so characteristic of the majority of Britain's beat groups, be they brainy or dumb, strikes on Begin Here to most hideous proportions. The only other band that did 'classic' material in an equally inept manner (out of the 'classic' ones, of course - no doubt that there were millions of far more lameass performers at the time that predictably didn't make the big time) that I can think of were the Kinks. But the Kinks in their early forming stages weren't capable songwriters - for the first two years of their recording career, Ray Davies didn't write much good stuff except for singles material. The Zombies, on the other hand, used their classical training and, well, all of their O-levels to write really good songs, some of which are captured on this album. Now why they had to mingle their excellent seven originals with seven covers that range from competent, but excessive, to absolutely laughable, just bugs me. It was early 1965, not early 1963, and then again, even the Dave Clark Five, who were recording earlier than the Beatles, didn't endure any producers' pressure on them to include cover material. What's up with THIS shit? Out of all the covers, I can single out one which is really good, Titus Turner' 'Sticks And Stones'. No, Colin Blunstone is essentially just fit for shit when singing R'n'B material - if you're white and you lack either the sneering superior sarcastic stutter of Mick Jagger or the raunchy rip-roarin' raucous rumble of Eric Burdon, you'd better just be shutting your trap. But it's not Colin, it's Rod Argent's absolutely TREMENDOUS organ solo that really makes this number. I can't vouch for the entire British scene of the time, of course, but as far as my limited knowledge goes, it's the first electric organ solo of such magnificently combined speed, fluency and aggressiveness that had ever been performed. (No offense to Alan Price - this here style is not so much better than the Animals organist's than it is simply very different. Price's was far noisier, in the first place). A solo to be treasured forever. The rest of the covers... eh. 'I Got My Mojo Working'? 'Can't Nobody Love You'? I suppose the way these songs are performed is good enough to fit the standard of a very average London club at the time, but I personally want a little bit more inventiveness and excitement from a 1965 record. Plus, Paul Atkinson is about as weak a guitarist as Rod Argent is strong as an organist; bringing the Kinks comparisons back again, he doesn't even have that inner flame of Dave Davies' which often compensated for the lack of technique. The idea of joining 'You Really Got A Hold On Me' with 'Bring It On Home To Me' in a single medley isn't bad per se, but the actual performance is so lacklustre I have a hard time noticing when exactly they effectuate the shift from one tune to another. 'Roadrunner' still gets the single deserving kick in the groin, though - man, are these vocals ever bad. I've never heard the original, but I do know just how much bravado Eric Burdon or Roger Daltrey could invest in the song. Bluntstone, on the other hand, had probably never even approached a motorcycle in his life. All of which makes the accompanying originals sound even better in comparison. The classic single 'She's Not There' is the album's cornerstone, of course. It may look slight in retrospect, but in 1964, it must have seemed to appear out of nowhere - this kind of sound was simply not to be found in existence (although the Beatles did come close with songs like 'Not A Second Time'). This isn't Merseybeat; this isn't Motown; this sure as hell ain't R'n'B. The organ melody is still a bit too humble, hiding behind Colin's gorgeous vocal parts, for us to call this true "art pop", but it's proto-art-pop for sure, closer to marrying the 'lower' and 'higher' genres than any other song of 1964, and besides, it's just plain beautiful. There are, however, several other mini-gems to go along with it. Chris White contributes three winners, the most stunning of which, of course, is 'What More Can I Do'. Within a minute and a half it moves through sections that are sad, melancholic, a trifle medievalistic, shadowed with dreamy echoey background vocals; upbeat Brit-pop bridges; and energetic flurries of R'n'B organ soloing, each of these at least twice. It's over much too soon, but then that must have been the point - to cram so much into so little. 'I Can't Make Up My Mind' is a little clumsier and a bit too directly Beatlesque to be of theoretical interest, but it does possess a couple of neat vocal hooks. As for Rod, besides 'She's Not There', he's also responsible for the rockier - and breathtakingly catchy - 'Woman' and the sappy, but humble and emotionally captivating ballad 'I Remember When I Loved Her' (shoot me but I do hear medieval intonations there, maybe I'm just going insane); the only slight misstep to my ears is the accappella number 'The Way I Feel Inside', a bit too goofy for its own sake - but still interesting from a novel point of view at least. The 1992 CD edition does tilt the balance into the band's favour, since most of the bonus tracks are self-penned compositions that carry little of the clumsiness and inexperience of the band's covers. Of particular importance is the band's second (and last, before the unexpected success of 'Time Of The Season' four years later) hit single, 'Tell Her No', with one of the most intricate vocal arrangements of that early epoch. 'It's Alright With Me' is probably the best of their faster, R'n'B-influenced numbers, because they'd bothered to think of an interesting riff for it, while Bluntstone stays pleasantly restrained and makes no further attempts at bleating. As for 'Sometimes', well, I guess it'll always be interesting to see the band working on Dave Clark Five territory (funny enough, the DC5 had a song with the same name, too, although the two have little in common). Whether you do need to hunt for this specific edition, though, is not quite clear. Today, all of Begin Here, together with all of the bonus tracks bar the alternate takes and demos (do you really need those?) can be easily located on the Decca Stereo Anthology, where the track listing is so long that all of their lame blues-rock experiments are easily dissolvable in the real good stuff. (Which reminds me - it's too bad the 1992 edition of Begin Here doesn't include 'Walking In The Sun', not one of the band's "best ever" tunes, but possibly even more advanced for 1964 than 'She's Not There', with a bombastic arrangement, echoey, almost proto-psychedelic vocals, and an anthemic, gospelish quality that really makes it stand out among its brethren. Well, tough luck if you're a Zombies completist, though - there's so many records out there you'll have to hunt down for just a handful of tracks, or just a single song.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
Pop music's bar-rock masterpiece. Get it? Bar-roque? Oh, well, never mind.Best song: TIME OF THE SEASON
Track listing: 1) Care Of Cell 44; 2) A Rose For Emily; 3) Maybe After He's Gone; 4) Beechwood Park; 5) Brief Candles; 6) Hung Up On A Dream; 7) Changes; 8) I Want Her She Wants Me; 9) This Will Be Our Year; 10) Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914); 11) Friends Of Mine; 12) Time Of The Season; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) I'll Call You Mine; 14) Imagine The Swan.
If you're like me, don't go after this expecting the pop masterpiece to end all masterpieces... I know I did, prompted by all the hype, and was seriously disappointed because upon first listen, I didn't hear great unsurpassable untrivial melodies, terrific emotional lyrics, or gorgeous breathtaking singing. I heard... well, I heard a very decent collection of simple little piano-driven pop songs. As for the atmospherics, well, it takes more than just a piano in the foreground and a Mellotron in the background to get me going, you know.It took several listens to realize that yes, the record was just that. It doesn't even suffer from the Pet Sounds complex: true, Argent and company did set out to make a 'special' album, but more in a personal than universal way. Just like Pet Sounds, it is a self-consciously "beautiful" mood piece, but unlike Brian Wilson's tour de force, it does not ever pretend to be so almost dreadfully majestic and self-imposing. No pompous orchestration here, or gazillions of instruments, or layers upon layers upon layers of dramatically complex vocal harmonies (although the actual harmonies are good). Al Kooper was the first to 'discover' the genius of the album as early as 1969, making a conscious move to "protect" and preserve the record, and by the Nineties, Odessey was recognized by pretty much every serious critic alive as the lost classic it is - but I must absolutely disagree with the "majestic", "transcendental", "proverbially gorgeous" and other epithets heaped up on the album. It's a unique-sounding collection of well-crafted love songs. That is all. Now don't get me wrong: I don't think the album is so much "overrated" (aargh, that stupid word), as it is a little bit "mis-categorized". It reflects its age perfectly, yet it doesn't seem to me to reflect as many diagnostic sides of its age as it should have were it aiming for true 15-star or 14-star quality (not to mention that, on a personal level, at least two or three songs on here do absolutely nothing for yours truly). Having gotten that out of my system, I will now say that it is, indeed, a necessity for any Sixties lover, and is probably the best concise Argent-dominated piece o' plastic you'd be making your bets on (although, frankly speaking, the debut of Argent the band comes extremely close - and if you like Odessey, be sure to find 1969's Argent at all costs). So what do we have here anyway? One track that sounds nothing like the rest - this is Chris White's "folk-psychedelic" tell-tale 'Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914)', which people usually dislike because it 'disrupts the flow' of the record, but that's one way of looking at it; another way is to say that it provides the album with at least a teeny-weeny bit of diversity (kinda like 'Sloop John B' does for Pet Sounds), and I actually like the way it's written a lot, with that cooky accordeon and Blunstone's plaintive 'and I can't stop shaking, my hands won't stop shaking...' refrain. It's so doggone cute... and tearing, if you know what I mean. And? Eleven more love songs (shared love, unshared love, romance, breakup, reunion, everything you ever wanted to know about two people of the opposite sex dealing with each other, but nothing dirty, I assure you, guv'nor), like I said, all based on Rod Argent's piano melodies (well, okay, many of the songs are credited to White, but did he really play that piano? don't think so), occasionally supported by a Mellotron or a few guitar lines. The resulting sound is gentle, romantic, and tasteful, certainly a delight for anybody who's trying to detect classical influences in rock, although occasionally, when the hooks are not that strong, the album tends to get a bit tedious. Personally, I don't think 'Changes' is a good song at all - it's a rather sloppy hookless mess with a bit too much complexity clogging up the potential strengths of the song (vocal harmonies, in particular), with the different parts having a hard time meshing together. And after four or five vastly superior songs, numbers like the more simplistic 'I Want Her She Wants Me' will only be enjoyed by those for whom the sound that the Zombies establish on this record is the epitome of everything that makes pop music, you know, special. Elsewhere, I just have to join the general chorus - 'Brief Candles' and 'Time Of The Season' didn't even have to grow me, as I've heard them before on The EP Collection (see the review above), and then there are the gems like the perfect introductory number 'Care Of Cell 44' (about the protagonist meeting his beloved one just released from jail!!), with the fleeting Mellotron and the 'Good Day Sunshine'-like uplifting piano line all the way; the stripped-down ballad 'A Rose For Emily', based on Faulkner; the supercatchy chorus of 'Maybe After He's Gone'; the stately slow organ-supported movement of the depressing (but only depressing in that light, thoroughly non-suicidal Sixties manner) 'Beachwood Park', which actually sounds very uncannily like 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' (some say Procol Harum were seriously influenced by the Zombies, but unless the similarity is pure coincidence, only the reverse is possible, because Odessey And Oracle came out later); the album's most ethereal composition, 'Hung Up On A Dream', with the Mellotron at its most bombastic; the fun, stomping, catchy, warm singalong and clapalong anthem 'This Will Be Our Year'; and the hilarious pat-her-on-the-shoulder vaudeville-like 'Friends Of Mine'. All solid, inspiring songs that only a total idiot would want to bash. Plus, the Rhino re-issue which I have adds 'I'll Call You Mine' (see the EP Collection review) and another tune called 'Imagine The Swan' which I don't dig much apart from Rod's tasteful harpsichord playing. Did I mention yet that the album was intended as a self-conscious swansong (no, it's not better than Abbey Road)? Well, it was, and maybe if anything does make it special, it's this fact. Like a little touching personal gift to themselves. And you probably know all that, but it came out in 1968, remained thoroughly unnoticed, then got discovered by Al Kooper who stimulated its American release, then for some reason 'Time Of The Season' hit # 1, but the album didn't anyway, and remained sort of an underground classic until the Nineties, when it was rediscovered by critics worldwide and you definitely know the rest. Criminally underrated at birth, slightly overestimated after death, the usual story. Maybe not the most perfect pop record ever made, but probably the most perfect baroque-pop record ever made - in other words, unique and begging for you to buy it.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
A bit wearying at first, and it's probably not the best place to start with 'em Zombies. Still, a lot of groovy pop classics here.Best song: real hard to tell
Track listing: 1) She's Not There; 2) Nothing's Changed; 3) Leave Me Be; 4) Summertime; 5) Sometimes; 6) Woman; 7) It's Alright With Me; 8) I'm Going Home; 9) Kind Of Girl; 10) Is This The Dream; 11) What More Can I Do; 12) Tell Her No; 13) She's Coming Home; 14) Just Out Of Reach; 15) Whenever You're Ready; 16) I Must Move; 17) Remember You; 18) I Love You; 19) I Want You Back Again; 20) You Make Me Feel Good; 21) It's Alright; 22) Time Of The Season; 23) Brief Candles; 24) I Call You Mine; 25) She Loves The Way They Love Her; 26) She's Not There (stereo version).
As is so usual with pretty much every British Invasion band of any serious merit, the Zombies have an awful heck of a discography (I surmise British Invasion bands of no serious merit whatsoever don't even have an actual discography any more). Apart from Odessey & Oracle, their overlooked 1968 LP now considered a timeless pop classic, their main 'wealth' lay in singles and occasional 'outside' tracks. These have been carefully collected and pressed into about ten thousand various collections, ninety-nine and a half percent of which are shameless rip-offs. The most recommendable so far seems to be The Singles A's & B's, but it's also extremely hard to get; you may be sure you'll have to face miriads of these rip-offs before you encounter the real thing. So far, my best bet seems to have been this cute little collection, and I'll warily review it here since it's a shame to have a site devoted mainly to Sixties' artists and not have anything by the Zombies at all: I hope to lay my hands on Odessey on a lucky day, but for now, I'll have to content myself (and you) with this.This compilation is basically what it proclaims itself to be: a collection of pretty much everything that the Zombies ever released in EP format. On one hand, this means that I can easily rate this record as it is not a 'hits' or 'best-of' package; on the other hand, it's still not at all systematic, and much too often, reeks dangerously of a 'best-of' (not that these songs are all that good, mind you). I have specially checked all Zombies discographies I could get, and the results show that some of these tracks come from singles (duplicating A's & B's to a large extent), some come from albums (duplicating their first album, Begin Here, to a large extent), and some come from unidentified sources (US-only releases? soundtrack albums? 'various artists' crap? who can tell?). To cut the crap, I'll just list all the tracks in chronological order. From 1964 (singles): 'She's Not There', 'Leave Me Be', 'Woman', 'What More Can I Do', 'Tell Her No', 'You Make Me Feel Good'. From 1965 (singles and Begin Here): 'Nothing's Changed', 'Summertime', 'Sometimes', 'It's Alright With Me', 'She's Coming Home', 'Just Out Of Reach', 'Whenever You're Ready', 'I Must Move', 'Remember You', 'I Love You', 'I Want You Back Again'. From 1966 (single): 'Is This The Dream'. From 1968 (Odessey & Oracle and singles): 'Time Of The Season', 'Brief Candles', 'I'll Call You Mine'. Unidentified (any feedback on these ones would be useful): 'I'm Goin' Home', 'Kind Of Girl', 'It's Alright', 'She Loves The Way They Love Her'. Well... so what? One thing I'll tell right here and now: from glancing at the chronological arrangement I presented here (the songs are quite mixed up on the actual disc), it's hard even to imagine that the Zombies were subject to any progressive (or regressive) development during all the three or four years of their existence; only the Odessey tracks sound a bit out of place on here. Everybody knows that the band did some pretty lame R'n'B covers in their early days, but you couldn't tell by the track listing. Most of the songs display the Zombies in their trademark style: untrivial, but rewarding and ultimately catchy pop melodies, Colin Blunstone's squeaky, slightly 'naughty' lead vocal and the band's impressive vocal harmonies, gorgeous guitar arpeggios, and, of course, Rod Argent's dominating keyboard sound. On most of this pre-Odessey material Rod rarely exploits his beloved organ; at least, it's not any more prominent than is his electric piano playing; and Paul Atkinson is given enough chances to shine as well. As a result, there's even now a bit too much monotonousness and 'sameness' about these songs for me to easily endure the record in its entirety (remember that twenty-six tracks are usually harder to sit through in one listen than, say, a standard fourteen). But that's about the only complaint I can load the album with, and I admit it's artificial AND subjective. What the heck, I'll probably get over this in a month or two. Meanwhile, I'll just cut the crap and state the obvious: the Zombies' early pop was certainly unique, and, while they obviously owe a lot to the Beatles (everyone does), these songs go far beyond flawless imitations of the Fab Four a la early Hollies. Ever heard 'She's Not There' or 'Tell Her No', their flashy 1964 hit singles, the first and last ones they ever had? Their melodies will be sure to stick with you, if not on first, then on second listen, and they're far from obvious, especially on the pleading, harmony-drenched 'Tell Her No' with its twisted, tricky refrain that was obviously far more complex than anything even the Beatles were thinking of at the time. It's obvious that reviewing all of these songs will be a pointless and annoying task, so I'll content myself with listing a handful of other highlights which stick in my head a bit 'firmier' than everything else. 'It's Alright With Me' has the best guitar riff on here, and it's maybe the best way to start copping off the band if you're a beginning guitarist (watch out for these time signatures, though - they change every few seconds!). 'I'm Going Home' is their most entertaining try at straightforward R'n'B on here, with Blunstone elevating his voice to a real state of rock'n'roll excitement (if that sounds like nonsense to you, keep in mind that there's not a ton of rock'n'roll excitement on this record). 'What More Can I Do' is a desperate, gloomy pop epic with Colin spilling out Chris White's venomous lyrics in a flurry before going off into a set of screams and turning the stage over to Rod's wailing organ solo. 'Whenever You're Ready' is simply beautiful, the kind of excited teenage pop vocal harmony beauty (gee, have I missed any epithets?) we mostly know from the Beatles, on occasion - from the Beach Boys. And 'Is This The Dream' is definitely a trillion times better than all the generic Motown dreck put together in one heap. Why? Well, because it's the Zombies, dang it! Man, there's five of them, and two of them wear spectacles! Even John Lennon never dared to wear spectacles in public, not before the Beatles quit touring, at least. Maybe that's because the Beatles are popular and the Zombies are forgotten... Oh yeah, I think I already mentioned that the record ends with two tracks off of Odessey & Oracle, their last hit 'Time Of The Season' which everybody adores but I don't really see why it should be far superior to the tracks I've listed above, and the truly gorgeous 'Brief Candles', written by bassist Chris White. There's also a pretty, melancholic (yeah, there is meant to be a comma in between these two adjectives) ditty called 'I'll Call You Mine' that was originally the B-side to 'Time Of The Season'. These three songs are a bit different in style, somewhat more 'classically' oriented than the previous stuff that was still mostly rooted in R'n'B and generic Britpop, and so do not really fit in, but that doesn't mean they aren't worthy or anything. And hey, does anybody know anything about 'She Loves The Way They Love Her'? That's a GREAT song! When was it recorded? I simply adore everything about it, from the muddy opening guitar lines to the incredible vocal harmonies, with that sly falsetto and the delicious 'aah - aah - aah's on the choruses. In brief, here's what the Surgeon General has to say: a collection like this can easily make any unconverted fan a total addict. No, I won't fall into the general anti-hype trap and say that the Zombies are almost as great as the Beatles or anything like that; the Zombies never transgress the borders of POP like the Beatles did, and their almost total lack of any will for experimentation or stepping away from their 'formula' is able to annoy, at times. In the end, this certainly contributed to their lack of success, together with the spectacles and excessive musical knowledge (back in the Sixties, it actually helped when you did not know how to read musical notation). But why complain? We still have all the old groovy records! Do the intellectual wimps a favour and go buy this, hell, go and spill your money on any shitty rip-off if there's nothing better. The Zombies are worth your being ripped-off. Believe me.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2004
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Which isn't very far, but beats blindness for sure.Best song: LOOK FOR A BETTER WAY
Track listing: 1) In My Mind A Miracle; 2) Memphis; 3) Southside Of The Street; 4) I Want To Fly; 5) Time To Move; 6) I Don't Believe In Miracles; 7) As Far As I Can See; 8) With You Not Here; 9) Wings Against The Sun; 10) Together; 11) Look For A Better Way.
I haven't heard Out Of The Shadows, Argent's collaboration with Blunstone that came out several years before this album, so when I see Rod writing in the liner notes about how they actually felt this second collaboration be so much more "Zombie-like" than the first that it deserved the resuscitation of the old name, all I can do is go "Uh?" because this doesn't sound like the Zombies at all! It sounds like... like... Elton John, maybe? Late period Moody Blues? Something in between? But supposedly it's all about that mysterious beast called "THE SPIRIT". You can't touch it, you can't smell it, but being the owner of a particular (not necessarily lonely) type of heart, you might feel it. Being the owner of a different type of heart, incompatible with the liner notes of Rod Argent, you can't, and thus obviously you're not qualified to write an objective review. So brace yourself for something very unqualified.There's little doubt that putting the sacred Z-word on the album sleeve will cost, or already cost, the album too high a price. "Whoah-hoah", comes the battle cry from both the old bearded fans and the young elitist treasure-gatherers, "they're back!". The ugly mugs on the photo might make a few of them think twice, but, after all, they can't be held responsible for their facial evolution. (Then again, upon my third listen I was totally convinced they could). Plus, you look at the lyrics and the very first song goes 'In you I found my Odyssey and Oracle!'. Nostalgia no longer trickles in through the doorcracks, it breaks through like a hurricane. Sure this can't be as good, but... but... but? Goddamn the but. This isn't a very good album. In fact, at first I was so bored I honestly thought it was a very rotten album. I honestly thought that slapping "Zombies" on it was as bad as slapping "Foreigner" on Foreigner. Because instead of giving us something that would vaguely remind of 1968-era Zombies, they gave us something that vaguely reminded of 1975-era Argent. Now frankly speaking, we could expect that, because the distance between 1968 and 2004 is obviously larger, not to mention the glaring absence of Chris White on this album (although he does sing backing harmonies on three of the songs, probably to lend the album a tiny drop of authenticity) and the equally glaring presence of regular Argent member Jim Rodford on bass. And another former Argent member, Russ Ballard, is credited for writing one of the songs. But if so, call the band "Argent" or "Colin Blunstone's Argent" because a spade is a spade, it is not a rose. Having said that, this isn't a very bad album. It's not "ethereal" like Odyssey, but after a few listens it becomes clear that it comes out of the hands of people who used to understand very well what true "ethereal" was all about. Since then, they have pretty much lost the ability to pack all their spiritual punch into a set of short, concise, catchy, and at the same time amazingly beautiful melodies; but even in the general flushy mess of guitars, keyboards, and orchestration, spread over the album in jungle-like fashion, you can still feel the echoes of bliss. And when you're dealing with a couple of former giants of Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone's stature, echoes are quite sufficient for us so as not to count the whole project as a failure. Parts of it are obvious failures - those parts that were, as it seems, written at the last moment because somebody had this particularly wretched idea of "outbalancing" the sentimentalism of the album's endless streak of ballads with a few "tougher" numbers. 'Time To Move', for instance, is easily one of the blandest, smoothest, fakest rockers of the entire XXIst century; which isn't quite the same thing as worst - it's got a nice hundred-percent generic Burger-King-of-a-rock'n'roll-melody - but is maybe even worse than being "worst", or, at least, merely makes no sense at all. Why put one so-so rock'n'roll song on an album that, for the most part, actively shuns rock'n'roll? Unless, of course, it's yet another nod to the Zombies' past: "We've always sucked when trying to rock out, and lo and behold, we STILL suck when we rock! We are the Zombies!". Weird. I am likewise not bowled over by the upbeat music-hallish 'Southside Of The Street' - as painfully representative of the stale formula of that music genre as 'Time To Move' was for rock'n'roll. And they could have hardly made a worse choice for the lead-off track than 'In My Mind A Miracle', a gospelish anthem that almost made me nosebleed, so much did it remind me of something - now I remember: it's George Harrison's 'Tired Of Midnight Blue', off his 1975 Extra Texture album. No kidding. Not a bad song in its own rights, but the oddness of the comparison speaks for itself. I'm probably not too far off the mark when making the hypothesis that few people got further than this first song when passing their overall judgement on the album, and I can't blame them: if you can't throw the bait well enough, you only have yourself to blame. Colin Blunstone as Tom Jones? No thank you. However, it does make sense to advance beyond the failures and oddities in order to discover the balladeering meat of the album. Already the second song, 'Memphis', echoes of past glories, with intricate, unpredictable twists of the vocal melody, bizarre orchestration soars, and impeccable vocal harmonies (Chris White!). Argent's piano is a bit Elton John-ish, but that's not really denigrating: the important thing is, when Colin goes 'tonight - my soul has wings!' and the cellos spiral up to the sky, they got it! They got the genie bottled up! Or, at least, the genie's left toe, but ain't that something? One magic moment, coming right up! Finally some proof that my money hasn't been totally wasted. The slower and "draggier" the songs are, the more they eventually start to rule. The title track, for instance, which takes so much time to grow and mature that it's tempting to lose patience and press the skip button, but if life were always like this, where would be all the 1952 bottles of Dom Perignon for the gourmet guys to taste? Give it time, and eventually the orchestra will go "pooh" and the song will become ominous and solemn where it was merely yawn-inducing in its first minute. And this is as good a moment as any to mention that the best thing about the album are Rod's orchestral arrangements - pleasant at worst, awesome at best (like on the title track); majestic when they're dense, and subtle and touching when they're minimalist (like on the first half of the pretty 'I Want To Fly'). Although even the orchestra less ballads, like the purely guitar-driven folksy shuffle 'Together', are quite cute. My choice of best track falls upon the album closer - let's face it, at least they know how to exit the stage correctly after tripping on the ramp and nosediving at the beginning. 'Look For A Better Way' is anthemic and moralistic, but, like I always say, it's not the moralization per se that irks me, it's the lack of a moral right to moralize - and surely Argent and Blunstone, with their legendary status, age, and experience, have earned a right for a little unsubtle moralization. Besides, it's such a cool uplifting song. Ray Davies wrote a ton of songs like these in the Kinks' latter days, but Ray Davies, unlike Rod Argent, was never much of an arranger, not when it comes to manipulating an orchestra, at least. Overall, I'd characterize the album as a "disappointment, steadily evolving into moderate satisfaction". When all is said and done, this is still music that makes you feel good rather than music which irritates you or which totally leaves you cold. It helps that the production values are all "traditional" and that there are no drum machines or hi-tech synthesizers anywhere around (or if there are, I can't really tell the difference). And I'm happy to say that it does not spoil my already well-tested theory that most of the rock giants of the 60s-70s, having bypassed their mid-life crises, are now learning to profit from their "second breath" in their late fifties and sixties. Granted, the "Zombies" are probably doing it a little less effectively than, say, Jethro Tull, or David Bowie. But maybe it's just the magic of the name spoiling my impressions out here. How different would this review be had they not used the moniker? That's a big question to ponder out here.
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