The Zombies: most overrated band of the ’60s?

There seem to be no selective career-spanning best-ofs on the market, so the kind of listener who studies bands a little bit before investing in their product has no choice but to splash out £20-£40 on ZOMBIE HEAVEN, the four CD boxed set containing their complete works.  Most of which is not psychedelic/baroque-pop, but rather typical early ’60s “beat-group”-style pop music.

Let’s just be clear on this: early ’60s “beat-group” pop music is not foreign territory to me.  It’s not the alienating soundtrack to an unimaginably remote period of history – I like it (cue for a song, Mr Marsden?). Not just your usual towering figures – Beatles, Kinks, Who and all your other “bands who would transcend the form, surviving and prospering into the psychedelic era”, but also those who struggled a bit in the pre-psychedelic ’60s, and weren’t universally respected after they found their niche (like the Moody Blues and the Bee Gees), not to mention the Searchers, the Hollies and other second-division early ’60s bands (quite a few hidden treasures in both those categories).  Once in a great while I’ll even feel the desire to immerse myself in some really kitschy music early ’60s music (like Gerry and the Pacemakers).

So why am I feeling so let down by Argent, Blunstone, White and co?

I guess it’s ’cause they’ve been so over-hyped during the last two decades – on the basis of one short (30 minutes and change) album.

Odessey and Oracle is beautiful, magnificent, everything they say about it is true.  The trouble is, the music they made before – and after! – that is mostly…rather ordinary “beat group”-style pop music.

Where’s the harmonic and melodic uniqueness we’ve been promised by so many latterday reviewers?  We glimpse it, in one song (that one song).  After that, between 1964 and 1967, you needn’t bother trying to find it – it’s not there!

Instead we have:

(i)  about two vinyl LPs’ worth of early Beatles pastiches that are OK…but only OK.  (Even the ZOMBIE HEAVEN sleevenote writer admits, in his subtle way, that they didn’t have the knack as lyricists.  He misses out the fact that they sometimes couldn’t clearly enunciate the lyrics they had written, having set the tempo too fast.  And the vocal harmonies are a bit off-key in places too – someone (Chris?) could never remember how much upper register he actually had

and

(ii) about three LPs’ worth of R&B/soul covers that are way too white-and-polite: closer to Manfred Mann than the Rolling Stones or the Small Faces.

Having diligently listened to all four discs in the space of a week, I’m left feeling like I was tricked into wasting my money.  For most people, Odessey and Oracle is all you need.  Only a few songs are worth saving from the rest.  Use your download facility.  And if anyone tries to tell you it’s worth spending £40 or even £20 on ZOMBIE HEAVEN, tell them no, no, no…

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