Odessey And Oracle
(the spelling mistake is a mistake by the cover artist) is the last album by the classic 60s pop band The Zombies
. The album, despite not selling much at the time, is now considered a classic of 60s pop in the same league as Revolver
or Pet Sounds
While it can stand comparison with those, perhaps a closer comparison could be made with The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society or Turtle Soup. The combination of the songwriting of bass player Chris White and keyboardist Rod Argent and the breathy, English vocals of Colin Blunstone led to some of the gentlest, most affecting music of the rock era. Don't let the 'tripy' artwork fool you - this isn't some proto-Grateful Dead album or a bad Sgt Pepper rip-off, this is gentle, melodic soft pop, and sublime.
Incidentally, White is given far too little credit for his contributions to the Zombies' music, mostly because their biggest hits , She's Not There and Time Of The Season were written by Argent, but on this, by far the band's best album, the best material is White's.
However, this is not to discount Argent's contributions - this album has less guitar on it than almost any album of the 60s, and is very much dominated by keyboard parts, which allow Argent to shine as an instrumentalist.
Care Of Cell 44 is a wonderful opener for the album. By Argent, this song is built around staccatto piano chords a la Penny Lane and a Beach Boys-esque a cappella break, but what is really unusual about it is the lyric, in the form of a letter to a lover about to be released from prison, looking forward to her release.
A Rose For Emily is a very pretty song, also by Argent, that is possibly too McCartneyesque - it sounds like someone trying to write Eleanor Rigby, with a story of a woman who grows old and dies tending a rose garden from which lovers take roses, but never has anyone to love herself. However, the countervocals in the verse, and the string and woodwind parts (only audible on the mono mix), are gorgeous
Maybe After He's Gone is White's first song on the album, and a comparative weak point. Still a great song, with a nice a capella break and an obsessional lyric (chorus 'maybe after he's gone, she'll come back, love me again'), the dynamics of the arrangement are less than perfect, going from a very quiet verse to a very loud chorus just a shade too abruptly. This track is much like I'm Waiting For The Day on Pet Sounds in that respect, and in that on any other album it would be the standout track, but on this is one of the weaker ones.
Beechwood Park, however, White's second track, is simply perfect. Another track that brings to mind Beach Boys comparisons in its arrangement (hammond organ and guitar through leslie speakers), although the primary inspiration seems to have been A Whiter Shade Of Pale, the lyric and melody are far closer to the work of Ray Davies - this song could easily have fit on Something Else By The Kinks or The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. It is a wonderful elegaic song filled with nostalgia for past summers and past love, and one of the great unsung tracks of the 60s.
Brief Candles , another White song, is slightly less successful. Still a nice pop song (very simillar to The Turtles' Love In The City in the chorus), and with a beautiful verse, Blunstone's vocal is a little too breathy to carry the chorus, which is a little too heavy handed for my taste compared to the gentle, piano-only verse. But these are minor complaints - there are really no tracks on this album that are less than very good, and there are more musical and lyrical ideas in this track than many bands have in a career.
Hung Up On A Dream, an Argent song, is a very nice mid-tempo pop song with vaguely 'psychedelic' lyrics. Musically though it bears too much resemblance to Beechwood Park to be programmed this close to it. Incidentally, Argent and White's songwriting styles and abilities are so evenly matched that it is almost impossible to tell who wrote what just from listening to the albums. They didn't complement each other in the way John Lennon and Paul McCartney did, by adding something the other didn't have, but rather wrote such simillar songs the album has a totally unified feel.
Changes, a White song, is a very unusual track that seems to be inspired by the vaguely medieval folk style of then-current bands like the Incredible String Band and Amazing Blondel, with a chorus of massed vocals, flute and percussion, while the very short verse is closer to conventional 60s pop. Not the best song on the album, but an intriguing experiment without getting too self-indulgent.
I Want Her She Wants Me is simply a joyous love song, musically somewhat similar to Daydream by The Lovin' Spoonful, or to Got To Get You Into My Life, with 'ba ba ba' backing vocals, shouts of 'hey' and every other element of classic 60s pop. One of Argent's best songs, this would be worthy of Brian Wilson or Paul McCartney.
This Would Be Our Year is even better. If I Want Her She Wants Me is this album's Wouldn't It Be Nice then this song by White is its God Only Knows. A very simple rhythm section, just staccato piano chords (other than on the solo), a simple bass line, and a drum part that for the most part sticks to swing-time triplets on the hi-hat, supports a beautiful horn arrangement (unfortunately missing from the stereo mix) vaguely reminiscent of Penny Lane, with one of the great 60s love songs. This is one of those songs one can become obsessed by - I've occasionally sat and listened to it a dozen times in a row.
Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914) is a depiction of World War I by White. White's only lead vocal on a Zombies record is backed only by church organ. Not the best song on the album, this sounds like White had read a little too much Wilfred Owen, but is still a decent track.
Friends Of Mine, another White song, is a highlight however. The unusual subject matter (how good it is to see two friends in love) fits well with the music, a delicious slab of harmony pop that would fit onto any album by The Turtles or The Lovin' Spoonful. One of the highlights of an album whose worst songs would be a credit to most bands.
Time Of The Season, the closer, is an Argent song that is very much a return to the earlier, jazz-tinged style of songs like She's Not There, and an oddity on the album in many respects, but is still one of the all time classic singles. Ray Davies was the only other writer in Britain at the time who would dare to come out with a line like 'what's your name? Who's your daddy? Is he rich like me?' . This was deservedly a massive hit in the US, but unfortunately didn't chart until its third release, by which time the band had split up.
Argent and White continued writing together for Argent's prog band Argent, and Blunstone had a mildly successful solo career. There was a one-off reunion of the band in 1997 to promote the Zombie Heaven box set, and Blunstone and Argent have recently toured as a duo, but no members of the band have ever equalled this work.