It’s odd to be thinking, coming out of a Zombies gig, about the songs they didn’t get round to.
Odd because the Zombies, in their original incarnation, didn’t even record enough songs to fill two CDs. Between 1964 and 1968 they released a decent album (Begin Here), a great album (Odessey And Oracle) and a handful of fantastic non-album singles. You’d think this wouldn’t be enough material to fill up a two-hour show.
But while the Zombies split up in 1968, the various members continued working together in various line-ups over the years, so for example Rod Argent and Chris White produced Colin Blunstone’s early solo albums, which were often backed by Argent (Rod Argent’s prog band) which White wrote for.
So when Colin Blunstone (the lead singer of the band) and Rod Argent (the keyboard player and one of the two principal songwriters) got back together again in 2000 and started touring as The Zombies, they didn’t just include Zombies material in their sets. Their sets instead are a history of both men’s entire careers, stretching from the R&B covers the band did prior to their stardom, through their early beat group hits and Odessey And Oracle, and into their post-Zombies careers.
What this means is that a show by Argent and Blunstone (backed by Jim Rodford, who is Argent’s cousin and was bass-player in Argent before going on to join the Kinks in the late 70s, on bass, Rodford’s son Steve on drums, and Tom Toomey on guitar) ranges through an extraordinary range of musical styles. There are very, very few groups who could cope with the level of stylistic variation needed to pull off a cover of Solomon Burke’s Can’t Nobody Love You and Argent’s ponderous stadium rock anthem God Gave Rock And Roll To You in the same set, but when you add in that the set also includes a jazz-waltz version of Summertime, Old And Wise — a song that Colin Blunstone originally sang with the Alan Parsons Project in the 80s, and the gorgeous delicate ballad A Rose For Emily, it seems positively ridiculous.
And so, amazingly, there wasn’t space for all their best songs. There was no Misty Roses, for example, and no The Way I Feel Inside, and while there were four songs from 2011’s Breathe Out, Breathe In, there was nothing from their 2001 or 2004 albums. There was no Friends Of Mine, Is This The Dream or I Remember When I Loved Her.
But what there was was a wonderful rush of sunshine pop, R&B, and 60s beat music, with occasional detours into blokeish stadium rock. The stylistic diversity works, though, because of the musicianship of everyone on stage, but particularly Colin Blunstone.
Blunstone has possibly the best voice of his generation, and unlike almost all his peers he’s managed to keep it intact — his voice is if anything stronger than it was in the mid-60s. And he knows how to use it — he is a great singer (a very different thing from having a great voice).
And he sings with such conviction that somehow a thudding stadium rock song like Argent’s Hold Your Head Up sounds like it fits with I Don’t Believe In Miracles (one of the greatest and most underrated songs of all time).
But none of it would matter if the songs weren’t so great. While I’m no fan of the Argent stadium songs, they do work wonderfully in a live performance. And as for the rest… the Zombies’ mid-60s catalogue may have been small, but it was perfectly formed. Can anyone think of a better set of songs than I Want Her She Wants Me, This Could Be Our Year, A Rose For Emily, Care Of Cell 44 and She’s Not There? When you add in the singles from that period — not all of them great songs, but all great singles — like Tell Her No, I Love You and Whenever You’re Ready, you end up with a setlist that is the equal of great contemporaries like the Beach Boys or the Monkees, despite those bands having released many, many more records than the Zombies ever did.
My only criticism of this show is that it was a tour in support of a new live album, Live In The UK. That’s not a problem in itself, but it is when of the ten songs on the live album, nine are on Live At Metropolis Studios, London, which came out last year. And on Odessey And Oracle Revisited, their live CD/DVD from 2008. And eight are on Live At The Bloomsbury Theatre , their 2007 live CD/DVD.
Releasing so many live albums in such a short period of time, with essentially the same repertoire on each, seems a little exploitative. Perhaps if they want to sell CD mementoes of their shows (understandably since that is no doubt where a good chunk of their income comes from), they should do what Squeeze did on their recent tour and have ‘instant’ CDs of each night’s show available at the end of the show.
But none of that’s really important — after all, you don’t have to buy the live CD. (I didn’t, though I did buy Blunstone’s Live At The BBC collection from the 90s…). These are wonderful musicians, performing wonderful music. Rod Argent, when talking to the audience, seems strangely defensive — having to say over and over that various music magazines put Odessey And Oracle in their best albums lists, or that Dave Grohl or Paul Weller or whoever like different songs. He shouldn’t feel like he needs to tell us those things. Just listening to the music is enough.