Collected Works: Music
Odessey and Oracle
by The Zombies
‘Feels so good, you’re coming home soon!’ exclaims an excitable lover. Wordless backing vocals echo the sentiment, cushioning the leader’s delight. The declaration marks an explosion of infectious enthusiasm, bringing the song hastily to an energetic climax. A bass line strolls in happy contentment. The keys of a mellotron weave warm, string-like effects. The voices reappear, a cappella, to hum in slight dissonance.
Euphoria bleeds from Odessey and Oracle’s icebreaking love song, ‘Care of Cell 44’. Finding ourselves swept up in this reckless romance, the protagonist’s mention of a ‘prison stay’ strikes us as a curveball, transforming what we had believed to be a conventional love song. This twist, along with the track’s harmonic unpredictability and disjunct piano introduction, showcases the group’s skewing of familiar forms, revealing to us the quirky tricks of their trade.
Running as a thread through the record, the underlying timbre is one of sunny psychedelia, but aspects of every number subvert the trip. ‘Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)’ supports its harrowing vocals with a solitary, macabre harmonium. The finger clicks and sensuous exhalations in ‘Time of the Season’ help the finale to groove with frisky, soulful swagger. The songs all follow clear structures, but unexpected chord progressions and instrumentational oddities give each a hallmark.
The album is fully decorated by a warm chorus of Zombies, who, gathered around a microphone, inject the contrapuntal complexity of baroque pop into the mix. Calmly rising from the still-hot ashes of ‘Care of Cell 44’, the singers in ‘A Rose for Emily’ imitate each other and overlap to form an intricate tapestry. From casting off with enthusiasm to embarking on a serene sojourn, the band’s route is difficult to foresee. Oracle is itself an odyssey, in which each new destination comes as a pleasant surprise.
Words by Hugh Maloney
More to discover
Rolling Stone has interviewed the band during their 50th anniversary tour for Odessey and Oracle; listen to the interview here.