Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Zombies - Begin Here

Begin Here (1965) ****

The Zombies were a British Invasion beat group best known for the haunting, "She's Not There," which still stands up as one of the finest singles of the era (or any era).  Seminally you could call them pioneers of "keyboard rock", bespectacled nerds breathily cooing fragile mid-tempo balladic odes to unrequited love, and thus blame them indirectly for the likes of Coldplay.  Their debut album is certainly not rubbish, but it does suffer from first-album-by-seminal-British-Invasiion-act syndrome:  that is, waaaaaaay too many covers.  Half the original 14 track album, in fact, leaving only 7 originals to judge the band's merits upon.  As predictable, the revved up R&B rockers don't suit the band's style at all, and the best you can say about the likes of "Roadrunner," and "I Got My Mojo Working," is that they're harmlessly generic whitebread British Invasion covers of black American soul, hardly worse than what the Rolling Stones and Kinks were performing at the time.  And how many times do we have to hear Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold On Me," with a nasal limey accent?  Only Gershwin's lazily laidback, "Summertime," seems to truly suit the lads' proclivities.  The originals are naturally much better, but half of those can be damned with the faint praise of "shows promise".  And what's half of 7?  Of the non-formative originals, I've already mentioned "She's Not There," which succeeds in doing something hardly any other British Invasion band of the era was capable of:  it swings, and quite jazzily.  "The Way I Feel Inside," which fragmentarily registers at under two minutes and is almost acapella with slight organ swelling and a coin clattering as the backdrop, haunts with its beautiful spareness; "I Remember the Way I Loved Her," is a bit more conventional of a ballad in a similar style, and is quite lovely as well.  Those three were written by keyboardist Rod Argent, who contributes another number, "Woman," that is once again too aggressively horny to suit the band's temperament.  Bassist Chris White chips in three tunes, but none of them are much better than, "Mmm, OK.  Shows a lot of promise.  Keep it up lad, someday you'll produce a real corker."  As such, the original 14-track album receives the grade I gave it in my brief review preceding.

The 2001 German import that appends 17 bonus tracks (grand total: 31 tracks - but you can do math, can't you?) is another story altogether.  Gathering up singles, B-sides, and precisely one outtake (the final track, "I'm Going Home," another R&B cover not worth your time), this is the definitive case of the bonus tracks outweighing in sheer gold bulk and worth the original LP itself.  Chris White's "Leave Me Be," (the first great song he wrote, apparently) is a paranoid, mopey teen-angst anthem worthy of Roy Orbison or Morrissey, with its swift modulation from dreamily sad chorus to shriekingly raging chorus.  Self-pity - ah, sometimes a wonderful emotional state to wallow in.  Hand me the tissues.  There's their second hit, "Tell Her No," which always seemed a bit headscratching to me, as it's never been a bit favorite of mine when the Zombies had superior material on the ready; but it's a fine single anyways, and darndest difficult to dislodge the "no no no no no no," chorus.  The pounding piano riff that segues into the chorus of "She's Coming Home," would've made for a finer followup to "She's Not There," in my world, but hey, it's not my world - it's Zombie World.  (Yes, I can hear you groaning at that pun.)  Moving on, we land upon track 23, "Whenever You're Ready."  My powers of critical analysis fail me at this point.  This is not only the Zombies' greatest song, it is literally as good as your favorite Beatles track, which is to say without any hyperbole that this is the greatest song ever recorded by man, living or undead.  If you haven't heard it, stop reading this review now, get on Youtube and listen.  I'll save you the trouble (you knew I would); see embedded Youtube below.  Anyhow, a 17-track song by song review isn't what you've got the attention span to read, so let me conclude that while there are a few bonus songs that aren't all there, they're mostly quality material - a considerable improvement over the debut album, if not quite Odyssey & Oracle quality just yet.  White has grown into a decent songwriter, and along with Argent's improving skills, the Zombies are finally able to tackle upbeat, organ-crackling rockers such as "Indication," convincingly.  But they're still at their best handling fragile balladry such as "How We Were Before," which is just cry-in-my-wine-cooler heartbreaking.  And a mid-tempo pop-rocker as "Don't Go Away," is.....


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