Odessey and Oracle
Originally known for their British invasion hits ‘She’s Not There’ and ‘Tell Her No’, the Zombies also recorded as what’s now recognised as one of the finest albums of the sixties while in their death throes. With a warm, layered pop sound that’s derived from mid-sixties Beach Boys and Beatles records, in 1968 this album was probably a couple of years too late for mainstream acceptance. But with two strong song-writers, a sweet voiced singer backed by luscious harmonies, and a high level of musicianship corralled into succinct pop songs, Odessey and Oracle is a landmark and absolutely essential for any sixties pop fan. The songs, written by keyboard player Rod Argent and bassist Chris White, are generally sweet in tone, yet there’s still tension like the bittersweet welcome home to a lover released from prison in ‘Care of Cell 44’ and the romantic resignation of ‘Maybe After He’s Gone’. While White’s bass is prominent and guitarist Paul Atkinson also contributes some memorable lines, it’s the acoustic piano and mellotron of Argent that are the main musical feature, while the harmonised vocals of Rod Blunstone, White and Argent are also beautiful and ornate.
Of the twelve songs, it’s the two longer and more experimental tracks that are most difficult. The main stumbling block is Chris White’s ‘Butcher’s Tale’; its dour delivery and obvious thematic agenda are almost enough to throw an otherwise perfect album off course, even if it’s hardly lacking in musical ideas in itself. The other song that doesn’t quite fit is ‘Changes’, also by White; it’s full of beautiful harmonies and mellotrons, but it’s also overlong and repetitive. Once adjusted to these two difficult tracks, the rest of the album provides a practically flawless display of pop music, melodic, beautifully arranged and gloriously sung. Blunstone’s warm vocals enliven the quietly devastating psychedelic vision of ‘Hung Up On A Dream’ and the loneliness of ‘A Rose For Emily’, while ‘This Will Be Our Year’ and ‘Friends of Mine’ bubble with unstoppable exuberance.
Despite their short tenure, The Zombies were among the finest groups of the 1960s, and Odessey and Oracle is their key statement.