Odessey and Oracle
Legend has it that the engineers employed at Abbey Road Studios were relieved. It was May of 1967, and The Beatles had just finished recording Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. While the results were certainly worth the effort, Sgt. Pepper's had been an exhaustive experience, and the engineers were looking forward to a return to more traditional methods of recording. They'd just started dismantling the modified tape machine, when The Zombies walked in, asked them what they were doing, and told them to stop immediately. So much for a return to tradition, it would seem.
And three cheers for that. Lined with harmonies and layers, the sound of this album is full, lush, and always absorbing, without ever feeling cluttered. It's easy to keep piling on more; Be Here Now had as many as fifty guitar parts on every song. The trick is knowing how much is just right, and how to mix it. The Zombies were great at both.
The album opens with "Care of Cell 44," which, I can reveal, is the inspiration for my Blogger ID, CC44. Whenever I'm pressured to name my favourite song, I turn to "Care of Cell 44." It has a big, ebullant, brilliantly happy chorus. It's impossible to have a bad day when you listen to it. Colin Blumstone's voice is charming, and the arrangements are constantly shifting in subtle, dynamic ways. It's the perfect pop song, which means it's the perfect song.
"A Rose For Emily" is probably the most beautiful piece of art directly inspired by Faulkner, though I can't say that for certain. A simple, repeating piano figure backs Blumstone's lead vocal, which is unaccompanied until the choruses, which feature ample backing harmonies. One of the things I love most about this album is the emphasis it places on the lead vocal, never featuring dual-leads or harmonies on the lead. The melody is the melody, and what melodies these are. "Maybe After He's Gone," has a sing-along chorus and windy but complimentary verses. "Brief Candles" has another brilliant, brilliant chorus; they make these things seem easy.
"I Want Her She Wants Me" is the single happiest love song you'll ever hear. I mean it. It's happy, it delights in that first rush of love, but it's never, ever schmaltzy, even by today's standards. The album closes with "Time of the Season," a song I appreciate more as I get older. I used to think it was boring. How little did I know? The harmonies are astonishing. The "Clap, AHHH" hook is brilliant. The bass sound is simple and perfect. The reverb on the vocals is absolutely fantastic.
There is nothing wrong with this album. I usually mean that as an insult, as it is usually evidence that an album didn't try anything new, that the artists didn't branch out. That's not the case here. New things were tried. New things were brilliantly executed. And it holds up better than anything. My favourite album? It might be. It really might.