"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