Odessey and Oracle is one of those albums whose reputation seems to continue to expand with each passing year. The Zombies had enjoyed a number of chart hits through the mid 60s, but their first album hadn’t shifted many units. By 1967 they had switched record labels and headed into the studio to record an album a world away from their British Invasion sound of their first.
There are certainly albums of British psychedelia that enjoyed greater commercial success than Odessey and Oracle, but few were as consistently brilliant. While it must have been an uphill struggle recording such a beautiful sounding album on a limited budget, the resulting album still stands up to scrutiny today, eclipsing ‘psychedelic’ albums by bigger names, by simply being more likeable. There are no formless solos, no vocal histrionics or self-conscious drug references for the sake of being edgy, just a bunch of well-written and economical late 60s pop songs, with the band displaying a particular flair for vocal harmonies as well as piano and organ work. Shame then, that The Zombies had called it a day before the album was released.
For an album so wrapped up in reminiscing, there are a surprising number of deft and up-beat tunes to be found, with “I Want Her She Wants Me”, “Care of Cell 44” and “Friends of Mine” being the best. It’s when the tunes drop a gear that the album really hits the spot though, with “Maybe After He’s Gone”, “Beechwood Park” and “This Will Be Our Year”. This isn’t an album of miserable moping either, as even the downbeat numbers are shot through with a certain amount of optimism. The exception to this is the dark, bleak and haunting “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)”, which is one of the earliest examples of an anti-war song and certainly one of best.
With most ‘lost classic’ albums, there’s almost always a catch, a reason why they’ve only broken through to a mass audience after the word has been spread via the internet. With Odessey and Oracle there’s no such catch – it’s a fine pop album which stands up to repeated plays, despite it being firmly rooted in its era – something not helped by the fact that closing track “Time of the Season” has become musical shorthand for flower-power for particularly lazy television and film soundtrack curators. While this means that Odessey and Oracle perhaps lacks the ‘timelessness’ of some albums, it’s certainly a fine place to visit as often as the mood takes you.