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Odessey and Oracle, The Zombies (1968)


Odessey and Oracle, The Zombies (1968)
By Matt Kivel

With all of the attention and praise surrounding Brian Wilson and Pet Sounds these days, it seems the music industry has chosen to simply ignore all of the other great psychedelic pop albums of the '60s. The recent deaths of Arthur Lee and Syd Barrett are poignant reminders of the impending mortality of our musical heroes. It's time to take action, to shed light upon some of the more forgotten treasures and exhume albums that iTunes will not podcast and PBS will not document.

The Zombies' 1968 album, Odessey & Oracle, is a perfect pop record. Its melodic invention is breathtaking and the utter sweetness and majesty of the songwriting is so rare that it will leave you digging through yard sales for more Zombies music - though they don't have much more - only a backlog of scattered (and sometimes brilliant) singles, and their debut LP, which lends the feeling that the consistency and brilliance of this record was a product of some higher power.

There were two principal songwriters in The Zombies - Rod Argent and Chris White. Argent has tended to garner most of the media attention, mainly because he wrote all of the band's radio hits, but it should be noted that Chris White was just as integral in the songcraft (seven of Odessey's 12 songs were his).

The album begins with the sprightly piano jingle of "Care of Cell 44," which finds lead singer Colin Blunstone shifting effortlessly through various key changes. "Feels so good / You're coming home soon," he booms at the blissful chorus. The song sketches the story of a prison inmate's impending return to society, told through the eyes of his lonely lover. In three minutes and fifty-three seconds The Zombies have slyly redefined the lyrical conventions of a modern pop song.

Odessey & Oracle is consistently rewarding upon repeat listens. "Brief Candles" borders upon classicism in its use of texture and chord changes to complement some of White's best lyrics, eloquently portraying a couple that has fallen out of love: "His alone girl fades away / Left out on a limb / Finds he needs her more / Because she has no more need for him." The rich piano and muted trumpets on "This Will Be Our Year" swing with purpose and add light bursts of color to the song's infectious melody, eventually giving way to the lone organ drone of the creepy war-ballad "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)." The Zombies were taking chances with instrumentation that no other band, Beatles aside, could dream of.

"Hung Up on a Dream" is incandescent, its woozy guitars shifting through a foundation of mellotron and treated piano, perfectly maintaining the lyrical atmosphere of uncertainty and mental confusion. Argent's writing brims with emotion, and the song's sense of isolation and disillusion reaches its peak at the triumphant chorus: "A sweet confusion filled my mind / Until I woke up only finding everything was just a dream."

The album produced a lone hit single, "Time of The Season" - a moody exercise in surf-rock - which has since become one of the defining musical moments of its era. Sadly, the song's success came long after the group had called it quits, disbanding after Odessey & Oracle's failure to sell.

It is unlikely that Odessey & Oracle will ever be given the "royal" treatment of a Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper's, but its failure to gain wide public exposure only makes it more of a personally rewarding listen. It is an album to share among close friends, one that will brighten your Ann Arbor winter days.

Zombies: Time of the Season:


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