Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Maybe After He's Gone" / The Zombies

If I was too besotted with the White Album in 1968 to pay attention to The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, there was no way I would have been aware of Odessey & Oracle. Oh, yeah, I'd bought the Zombies' first single, the haunting "She's Not There," but they never made much of a dent in the American market, and I soon lost track of them. By the time Odessey & Oracle was released, the discouraged Zombies had officially disbanded. With no band to promote it, the album languished in obscurity, except for one single, "Time of the Season," which scored a fluky burst of posthumous success.

Over the years, though, this "forgotten" album gathered a cult reputation. (To mark its 40th anniversary, all four surviving Zombies reformed in March 2008 to perform the album in its entirety at the Shepherd's Bush Empire Theatre -- what a show that must have been!) When I listen to these songs, though, there's no haze of nostalgia coloring them -- after all, I only discovered the album a few years ago. But in a blind listening test, I'm not sure I'd pick it as a late 60s record. This music sounds anything but dated.

Just listen to this third track, "Maybe After He's Gone," which was written by the Zombies' bassist, Chris White (the same guy who wrote "You Make Me Feel Good" and "I Love You" and "Beechwood Park," among my favorite Zombies songs). That moody minor-key melody grabs you from the very beginning, as the singer (Colin Blunstone) recalls, his voice plaintively soft over acoustic guitar, "She told me she loved me / With words as soft as morning rain." The tempo lags anxiously after the beat; that fugitive melody skips and dodges all over the place, though Blunstone's acute sense of pitch hits every note. You just know there's a "but" coming, and here it is: "But the light that fell upon me / Turned to shadow when he came," ending with a chillingly dissonant chord. It's a story of love lost, in full folk mode.

And then suddenly, abruptly, it changes; the song explodes with a burst of lush major-key harmonies, backed by drums and a driving electric piano, as the singer (and friends) declare, "Maybe after he's gone / She'll come back and love me again / Maybe after he's gone / She'll come back and want me again." That dense texture is almost dizzying in contrast; curiously, it sounds more like the Beach Boys, circa Pet Sounds, than like any other British band of the time. It may be sheer bravado -- do we really believe for a moment that she'll ever come back? -- but the emotion is intoxicating.

Pensively, Colin goes on in acoustic mode, "I remember joy and pain / Her smile, her tears are part of me." (Lovely parallelism.) A background vocal weaves around in counterpoint, as if to underscore how divided his consciousness is. "I feel I'll never breathe again / I feel life's gone from me" -- the breathiness of Blunstone's choirboy voice was never more appropriate. As the song rambles on, there's no story to be told, no striking details to convey -- it's all atmosphere and mood, all grief and baffled desire. And every time that frenzied chorus breaks out -- even at the end, when it goes a cappella -- the idea that she'll come back seems less and less likely.

What a cruel irony -- that their swan song released a flood of creativity the Zombies would never follow up on; and that it had to compete head to head against the White Album, of all records. I wonder what I'd have made of it in 1968; now I'll never know. Still, better to find it late than never!

Maybe After He's Gone sample

10 comments:

Natsthename said...

I was only 11 in '68, and though my dad was cool and owned Beatles records, he passed on the White Album, fearing it was too much for hippies. I didn't hear the entire thing until I was in high school, probably around '71 or '72! No way I heard that Zombies record until much later, and it's a doozy!

And it was a cruel irony that the Zombies would never follow up on that record...it's truly a classic.

Holly A Hughes said...

I love that -- he thought the White Album was too much for hippies? Yeah, those hippies were going to suck your brains out, all right.

It's probably best that you didn't hear the White Album until you were in high school -- that's the perfect time to encounter the White Album for the first time. And it immediately made a hippie out of you, didn't it?

The Modesto Kid said...

the breathiness of Blunstone's choirboy voice was never more appropriate

This is true. I'm listening to the song right now and digging, but finding it hard to imagine that voice working out very well on anything that's not this song... Only other Zombies tune I've heard is "She's Not There", which I love, but is it the same singer? My memory suggests the voice is different.

Holly A Hughes said...

No, that was Blunstone too. Interestingly, both Rod Argent and Chris White -- the Zombies two main songwriters -- seemed to know how to write for Blunstone's vocals. Check out "I Love You" or "Time of the Season" -- Blunstone actually has a lot of range, though it's all lonely and earnest and vulnerable sounding...

44 said...

And while you're at it, search out and buy Colin's "One Year" - released in 1971 or 2 on Epic. His re-worked version of "Smokey Day" - not the older Zombies version - is, all by itself - worth the price of the album. The rest of it is merely excellent. Colin's voice was one of the highlights of the British Invasion and The Zombies were one of the best bands to come out of it.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks for adding that, 44. Blunstone's solo stuff is sort of a guilty pleasure of mine. Soppy production values and somewhat cheesy material aside, his solo albums are surprisingly luscious. The amazing thing is that his voice still is as beautiful as ever; the reunited Zombies really do deliver.

Anonymous said...

Argent were a great band too, Hold Your Head Up being their big single, but they had more than a few jazz rock classics, and were just the right side of prog.

The Zombies have reunited this millenium, and are currently touring O&O in its entirety.

Holly A Hughes said...

I like that -- "just the right side of prog." I have to say that watching Rod Argent on the keyboards is totally exhilarating.

The Zombies "reunion" I saw had just Blunstone and Argent, along with Argent's cousin Jim Rodford (who's also played with the Kinks and the Animals!) on bass, and Rodford's son on drums. They rocked the house big time; I have to admit I came out of that evening with a HUGE crush on Colin. I can't imagine how cool it must have been to see White and Grundy with them as well.

wwolfe said...

There was a boxed set of the complete Zombies recordings issued a few years ago. I was happy to discover the band had recorded another album's worth of songs after O&O that was very close to the earlier album's quality. The boxed set has excellent sound and a detailed history of the band - it's well worth the money for any Zombiephile. (Among lots of other gems, I've always loved the band's version of "Summertime." It perfectly captures the indolence of a lazy, muggy summer day.)

Holly A Hughes said...

Mmm, yes, Zombie Heaven is one of the best boxed sets ever (exceeded only by Nick Lowe's The Doings). I suppose it helps that they had such a short career, it could really be inclusive. It's got every BBC appearance, seemingly every demo and outtake -- the works!