I only ever really knew The Zombies for their brilliant 1964 single “She’s Not There”, but I was advised that Odessey and Oracle, released four years after that song, was by far their best album. I’ve not heard any of their others to compare it to, but it is very good, if quite clearly of its time.
The album is bookended by its two best songs – “Care of Cell 44” and “Time of the Season” – and both showcase the melodic knack that runs through the whole album. “Time of the Season” is the most famous, but I think I prefer “Care of Cell 44”, with its twist on the returning lover lyric and the unabashed euphoria of its chorus. Both are great, though, and easily stand out from many similar songs released around this time.
It would be difficult for Odessey and Oracle to maintain this standard but the rest of the album passes pleasantly by in an autumnal haze of baroque pop. “Beechwood Park” is beautiful and I think The Decemberists have based their whole career on “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)”. The only real misstep for me is “Friends of Mine”, with its sickly-sweet list of the names of loved-up couples who are presumably mates with the band.
The harmonies across the whole record are incredibly intricate and the songs so carefully constructed, but if I had to pick one thing that sets this album and The Zombies apart from others of the time, it would be the voice of lead singer, Colin Blunstone. I can’t get Dusty Springfield out of my head whenever I hear him, and this dusky femininity makes many of these songs sound more vulnerable and longing than they would in the hands of other bands. For example, if Ray Davies was to sing “This Will Be Our Year”, it would probably sound a lot more confident – with Blunstone at the helm though, you’re not sure if it really will be their year (it turns out it wasn’t – The Zombies split up before Odessey and Oracle was released).
Odessey and Oracle consistently ranks highly in lists of the best albums of all time, and it’s easy to understand why. It perfectly distils the sound of late 60s British pop and, while it couldn’t have been made in any other era, the strength of the songs mean it continues to stand the test of time.