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It`s the St Albans Sound!,
This review is from: Odessey and Oracle: 40th Anniversary Edition (Audio CD)
Liverpool had The Merseybeats, The Undertakers, The Searchers & The Swinging Blue Jeans (among other moptops), Manchester proudly had The Hollies, Birmingham gave us The Move, Newcastle bred The Animals, while London threw up The Small Faces, The Stones & The Who - and S Wales gave birth to Man!
So what constituted what we might fancifully call the Home Counties Sound? For such a neat-looking bunch of polite, melody-driven, lyrically inventive Hertfordshire lads, `The Zombies` would seem to be the least appropriate moniker they could have dreamed up. But then, The Zombies confounded & exceeded expectations for most of their all too brief time together. They came from the venerable town of St Albans - just up the road from where I was born, as it happens. Most of the country fell for them with their first single, the unique, breathy, timeless She`s Not There, which still sounds like one of the best songs of the sixties, covered by others but never equalled. (The wrong people covered it: how about a version from, say, Marianne Faithfull? Would`ve been perfect for Roy Orbison too.)
On the point of splitting up - their other singles hadn`t done so well, and frankly nothing could have topped their debut - they released the blithely misspelt near-masterpiece under review, now at last repackaged, remastered, with added tracks (not particularly good ones mostly, it has to be said) and the main album in both mono & stereo. I believe the whole kaboodle doubles as a teamaker & alarm clock too.
My full five stars is for Odessey & Oracle alone, rather than the extras, which the listener can take or leave.
Care of Cell 44 bursts out of the speakers like the refreshed sound of a group who sense they may well be onto something. It`s a terrific song, leading into one of the two songs on O&O with literary titles. A Rose For Emily - once a short story by William Faulkner - is a rather stately, very 60s mid-tempo number that accentuates singer Colin Blunstone`s impossibly public-school vocals - but they work! - with a lovely change of key in the harmonised chorus.
Maybe After He`s Gone is simply a superb pop song. After all, The Zombies were very much a pop group, not a rock band, at least not on record.
Beechwood Park is a standout. To an insidious spiky guitar-led backing, Blunstone sings this atmospheric ballad with tender aplomb. In an odd way it reminds me of some of the slower, more enigmatic songs The Bee Gees would include on their early albums such as Horizontal & Idea (both well worth checking out, incidentally).
Brief Candles - titular echoes of Aldous Huxley here - is wonderful too, showing how the whole group would often chime in on vocals as well as playing at their peak. There`s some excellent bass playing from the ever-underrated Chris White, who also wrote many of their songs, including several on O&O.
The rest of this always surprising album is just as good, with the `experimental`, edgy Chris White-sung Butcher`s Tale following the straight pop of This Will Be Our Year, then the delightfully witty Friends Of Mine, and finally their second most famous song, the haunting Time Of The Season, with its ominous drums (courtesy of Hugh Grundy), equally ominous piano triplets, and bass vocal echoing of Blunstone`s disarming lead vocal.
The Zombies are the kind of British band Americans tend to take to their hearts, and, sure enough, Time Of The Season was a surprise Number 3 in the States in March `69, but by then the group had split up. They`ve since, quite recently, reformed (they all do in the end) and played O&O live in its splendid entirety.
Rod Argent went on to form the cunningly named Argent (remember Hold Your Head Up, which DJ Alan `Fluff` Freeman would play at any & every opportunity?) and Colin Blunstone made several solo albums including the gorgeous Ennismore, which I`d recommend to anyone who likes great songs beautifully sung.
So, this was the Sound of St Albans. The Zombies` finest hour. The Home Counties` very own Sgt Pepper. Oh, look - just buy the thing. It`s bloody good!