By Rush Evans
The spiritual key to the creative success of the musical Zombies is the band’s unending enthusiasm for its own inspiring, thoughtful, heartfelt body of work. That’s half of what makes the band so vibrant in 2015 right there. The other half is the result of either good fortune or of the first half: they still got it. They can still play, sing and function as a solid working rock ‘n’ roll unit with ease.
Colin Blunstone is 70 now, and his voice is as pure and beautiful as it was when The Zombies rode the first British wave into our lives in the early 1960s. Rod Argent is also 70, and still writing sweet melodic tunes and playing keyboards soulfully, and singing with Colin to great effect. They’ve been working hard in recent years with their latest version of like-minded Zombies, keeping “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” “I Love You,” “Hold Your Head Up” (a major hit for Argent after the first Zombies breakup), and “Time of the Season” alive. The songs are timeless, but their zenith as a creative force transcends those hits. The “Odessey and Oracle” album gave us all “Time of the Season,” but it did so much more. It was and is their “Sgt. Pepper’s,” their “Pet Sounds,” and it’s worthy of both of those records.
“Odessey and Oracle” is closing in on 50, so the band decided it was time to revive the studio masterpiece on stage, which simply could not be done without original surviving band members drummer Hugh Grandy and bassist Chris White (original guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004). This was important not just for the history: White composed seven of the album’s 12 songs, singing lead at various times throughout the record.
So when The Zombies took the stage at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas (a stage about twice as old as “Odessey and Oracle”) for the second night of this special tour, it went like this: a full set filled with hits, new songs, stories and magic from Blunstone, Argent and bandmates Jim Rodford on bass (also an alum of the Argent band and The Kinks), Steve Rodford on drums and Tom Toomey on guitar. It was a fully realized show at one hour, but it was really just The Zombies as the opening act for ... The Zombies!
The second set was the entirety of the complex “Odessey and Oracle” album, and the ambitious undertaking worked. The four originals were joined by the three current members, along with Darian Sahanaja on vocals and keys. Sahanaja was the secret weapon behind Brian Wilson’s recent triumphant return to the stage, and his pop sensibility serves The Zombies just as effectively. The ethereal “Hung Up on a Dream” soared, as did the trippy “Brief Candles.” White sang beautifully alongside his old friends, handling the lead on “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)” perfectly as Argent played an old box organ, taking the sad wartime dirge back a century and a year. When the three sang together on “Friends of Mine,” it was pop vocal purity, just before the album closer, “Time of the Season,” which basically led to entire audience levitation.
So how can a band that achieves such artistic perfection even attempt new material? In the case of the Zombies, it’s just the burning desire to continue to create, or, to put it more bluntly, the new album’s title will serve: “Still Got That Hunger.”
New song “Maybe Tomorrow” recalls power pop peers like Badfinger, who happened to have a song by the same name. A musical tip of the hat to The Beatles at the end (a musical and lyrical snippet of “Yesterday”) almost led to exclusion from the record, but as Blunstone shared with the audience, they received a personal blessing for the respectful sample from Paul McCartney himself.
Argent wrote nine of the 10 songs on the new record, save “Now I Know I’ll Never Get Over You,” a sweet heartbroken Blunstone original recalling a former love who happened to have been a Bond girl in one of the 007 films (Colin told the audience the story at the gig, but neglected to share the actress’s name). That’s one of at least several songs with a strong Steely Dan vibe, but other tracks, like opener “Movin’ On” and a remake of their early song “I Want You Back Again” are more raw, more rock ‘n’ roll than the other jazz-influenced band.
At the end of the day, The Zombies, on stage and on record, then and now, are the real deal. “This Will Be Our Year” is one of White’s outstanding “Odessey and Oracle” songs, and maybe its title will prove prophetic, revealing 2015 as the band’s best, and maybe just maybe the time that leads to their long overdue entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
EXTENSIVE GOLDMINE INTERVIEW with vocalist Colin Blunstone, keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White of THE ZOMBIES
To order the December issue (digital edition) with The Zombies on the cover (and extra material not found in this online article), click here. Or to order a print copy of the issue call 715-445-4612, Ext. 13369.
Top features in this special "British Invasion Issue" include:
• The Zombies are back: The British band’s musical masterpiece gets all the love it deserves
•Beatles Vision: Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg talks about new “Beatles 1” release
•Yardbirds 101: Original Yardbird talks about the legendary band in the ‘60s and today
• Beatles card collecting
• A talk with Beatles expert Bruce Spizer
• 50 Kinks songs worth the cred
• Savoy Brown
• Beatles book roundup
• Record Store Day: Black Friday Edition
• Third Man Records
Plus, reviews, obits and Collector's Corner
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