I’ve waited. I’ve waited. So long – Reviewing ‘The Ocean at the End’ by the Tea Party

I’m generally one to rant passionately about things that I love that disappoint me. In fact, I will rant much more if my expectations are smashed than if I didn’t love it.

Disclaimer: I have never reviewed a music album before and so have no idea of the jargon or conventions of the form. You have been warned.

Warning: I say ‘awful’ a lot. Sorry about that.

[Update 21/9/2014: I’m positive I cut-and-pasted my quote from the 100PercentRock review verbatim, but I can’t find that exact quote anymore in the link I used, so I’ve cut-and-pasted the paragraph that is there now]

Intro

teaparty-coverSo! My first reaction to the unfortunately titled ‘The Ocean at the End’ (unfortunately, because Neil Gaiman wrote the excellent ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ which will forever appear in web searches above this album) was not great. I’ve listened to it a few more times now in its entirety, although at one stage I was playing interleaved tracks from this album and the immeasurably better ‘Transmission’.

So what is my first impression of this album? I love the Tea Party, have all their albums (including a very expensive copy of their first release, The Indie Album), and I’ve been to every concert I’ve been able to (although this year it is too expensive and this album hasn’t swayed me). I went to see the Armada and have their album. That’s a side project of Jeff Martin’s and in it he’s pretty good, only let down by his lyrics yet again.

Although I listen to different music these days, mostly metal in all its variety, The Tea Party’s old albums still work for me. Seven Circles started to drop the ball, and my favourites are still the trinity of Splendor Solis, The Edges of Twilight, and Transmission. Transmission is probably my favourite overall, as a single album. And yes, I am one of those people who listens to an entire album without shuffling, because an album is a story, constructed for a purpose.

TL;DR

I think this album sounds like George Lucas was allowed to take the Star Wars scripts and write his own with no editor. Imagine what that would be like?

Jeff Martin has never been the best lyricist, and it really shows here. Usually epic riffs and timing saves a Tea Party song, but in this case that did not happen.

My score is … not high.

Let’s walk through the album.

The L.o.C.

(Give up at 1:20/4:14)

I can’t even be bothered looking up what the letters stand for. It opens the album in an almost pop riff jangly thing that doesn’t sound like the Tea Party at all. Eminently forgettable.

The Black Sea

(Give up at 1:14/3:59)

Awesome intro, and this would’ve been a much better opening track for the album as a whole. It still wouldn’t have saved it, but it would’ve framed everything better. I don’t know anything about audio mastering, but this song’s heavy opening has no impact, it’s like everything’s been normalised. We first saw this in the tracks on Seven Circles, which I believe was mastered by Bob Rock. That same ‘everything is dynamically maxed out so it all sounds like grey mud’ effect seems to be prevalent here.

Anyway, this track is great until Jeff starts singing. See, nothing interesting is happening in this track. Something about sailing on the Black, Black Sea. I think this might’ve been better as just an instrumental. The chorus, ‘Waves crash around you/lost in the night/Darkness surrounds you/Black, black sea’ really says nothing at all. Lyrics are poetry, so stop fucking it up, Jeff. Seriously, is this a metaphor for something? I can probably make a few guesses, but none of them are interesting. Where’s the (comparative) intricacy of ‘Alarum’. Or ‘Babylon’?

Cypher

(Give up at 2:02/3:58)

A vaguely promising intro that turns into something that feels phoned-in. The lyrics are again supremely uninspiring, and the chorus is awful. So again, an interesting musical riff melody thing that sounds like it has no soul, and lyrics over the top that don’t do much. At least there is a little bit of the old Tea Party guitar wailing three-quarters of the way in. However, I don’t want to have to listen to any of the noise around that bit.

Shit guys, maybe this album is ripe for remixing. I reckon an experienced musical person could pull the awesome stuff out and make a powerful instrumental album.

The Maker

(Worth a listen)

This is a beautiful song (it is a cover of a Dave Matthews Band song, I think?). The lyrics are moving, Jeff’s voice is as good as ever when he’s singing someone else’s words. Sadly, the version I’ve heard before is a live version and it sounds great. On this album unfortunately, the musical accompaniment for this song is bland and Top 100 awful. None of the acoustic sharpness of that live recording exists here. Again, did it get muddied in some magical post-production thing? It’s just awful.

 Black Roses

(Give up at 2:10/5:29)

Something about lamenting some relationship. ‘All of those years/all of those memories/never will fade/beautiful friend/yeah we were young/lovelorn and helpless/breaking my heart/until the end/let’s have another glass of wine/I’m sure we can find the time/cos we got to see this through/I guess it’s up to you now’.

Look I can’t tell if Jeff is friendzoning an old lover here or trying to get her drunk or making her put the effort into … whatever he’s trying to achieve. Point is it’s not interesting. It’s highschool awful. Where is ‘Midsummer’s Day’ ffs? Where is, even, ‘Temptation’. Or ‘Great Big Lie’.

‘God is pressure/God is pressure more or less/and it takes a lifetime/a life of lies to make a mess/Ah, but you suffer/etc’  That’s much more interesting, dude.

The song seems as though it is over, but then drums kick in and we get another awful chorus out at the end. He guesses he should’ve sent black roses, you see. I’m guessing that’s some passive aggressive death-of-love thing? I can’t even be bothered googling it.

Brazil

(Give up at 0:16/4:44 then really give up at 1:21/4:44 before you kill yourself in embarassment)

This is the album’s standout piece of awful. The lyrics, for consistency’s sake, are awful. Apparently the children in Brazil are poor, and ‘Your wealth is controlled by the few’ (that’s the actual fucking lyrics I shit you not).

This song sounds like nothing more than a mildly twisted World Cup advertisement, even with the cheers of ‘Brazil!’ in the background. It’s just so mindbogglingly awful I am having trouble describing it. Let me have a little chuckle at this review from 100PercentRock.com:

Daniel Lanois’ The Maker is given an esoteric makeover, Martin’s baritone making the spiritual sound his own, seemingly effortlessly, before The Tea Party again throw shadows of Led Zeppelin with the seductive Black Roses and the exotic, smoky Brazil. [Emphasis added]

Hahahaha. Ahahaha. Oh guy, shut the fuck up please. That review rates the album 9/10. And look, I don’t know what their gold standard is and I don’t care to look into it. Maybe they score everything from 8/10 to 10/10, in which case a solid 9/10 (ie. 50% of max score) would be a reasonable call I guess. That obviously isn’t taking into account how much better their old work was. I wouldn’t score it nearly as high as 50%.

This track fades out with a thankfully brief but execrably muddy tabla/drum thing that makes the amazing ‘Turn the Light Down Low’ roll over in its grave.

I think ‘Brazil’ really is the pinnacle of this album, in so far as what it does wrong. It contains all the elements of mediocrity hinted at in the other songs: bland composition, attempts at grandiosity, empty lyrics, and then that awful fade out. That one song really just feels like you’ve dusted off some old wind up toys, where the springs have long ago lost their desire to uncoil, yet when forced into motion they spasm into a faded simulacrum of their former movements.

The 11th Hour

(Worth a listen)

One of the better, if not the best, tracks on this album. Catchy Tea Party sound, tolerable lyrics. Sadly, ‘I took a walk/sometime after dark/I had to meet a friend’ opens the song, which kind of frames it as yet another awful ramble. Stick with the song though, it has elements of the brilliant ‘Goodman Rag’ at the start, not in any musical sense, but thematically. That kind of New Orleans devil man advice vibe.

For the first time on this album, Jeff uses emotions. The chorus here is great, and you can actually feel some kind of yearning when he sings, ‘I saw the Real/breaking through/shining through/wanting you’. He actually uses his voice properly too, so I strongly recommend listening to this track a few times if you want to offset the majority of other awful tracks. This track would be great to hear live, so maybe they’ll put out a live album where I can enjoy it better, as the sound production is still awful.

Submission

(Give up at 2:05/3:54)

Starts off with a nice industrial growl. Unfortunately the chord progression reminds me of a slowed down version of Gary Numan’s much better ‘Cars’ so I can’t unhear or dissociate it. Luckily the song itself continues the expectation of bland banality set up by the previous songs, so we can ignore it for the most part.

The Cass Corridor

(Worth a listen)

Starts out sounding like a cool rocking bluesy thing in the style of old Tea Party, but again the lyrics leave you scratching your head. Something about hanging with some dude in a boulevard. I dunno, is Jeff exploring his heteroflexible side? It sounds like he’s picking up a skinny white kid to take down to the park? Is this song about relationships? Personal trauma? I dunno hey, and don’t care enough to figure it out. Can we have more ‘Sun Going Down’ now in our rocky blues stuff please?

Water’s on Fire

(Worth a listen if you can get past the start)

‘Here we stand/hand in hand/see those stars/shifting sands/if I stay it falls apart/it’s sad but true/I’ll break your heart’ What are you saying Jeff? Your lyrical mysticism confounds me.

I kid. But seriously, the problem with this song is that those words are delivered over some Grade-A dull rock beat. Like, on the level of ‘The Messenger’. That song, however, had interesting lyrics (incidentally, written by the same guy who wrote ‘The Maker’, from what I can tell).

The tragedy of this song is that, once again, Jeff uses emotions in a powerful chorus, and that chorus really is great. Then it goes back to tedious verses ‘Here we are/one last chance/can we share/this final dance?’ It sings like it reads: dull, no feel to it.

Luckily it goes back into the chorus pretty rapidly, and in a shocking move, Jeff’s emotions ramp up too. The song really is good in just these bits. Unfortunately it’s not possible to listen to these chunks in isolation, and so it fails as a piece. Probably the best track after the 11th Hour.

As for this constant whining relationship theme? Shut up Jeff, just move on already, fuck. We’ve all been there. If you write about it, write about it in an interesting way.

The Ocean at the End

(Give up at 2:30/8:37 or finally at 3:50 /8:37 if you want to give this longest track some mercy, 5:50/8:37 if you want to experience the full awfulness)

The titular track! Nice quiet introduction reminiscent of the later tracks on Triptych. Once the tiresome beat and lyrics roll in it just turns into a quieter, slower version of the other bland tracks on this album, though. There are a couple of interesting vocal moments, where it almost sounds like a 20 year younger Jeff wakes up in a saline musical slop and realises that he needs to take the red pill. But even the guitar solos are evidence that he did, in fact, take the blue pill. The valium.

For the full experience, listen to the two minutes of tired, desperate, desperate guitar solo at 3:50 in. This will suck the last of the joy out of your Tea Party guitar solo memories.

Into the Unknown

(Worth a listen)

I get the feeling that Stuart Chatwood composed this peace, because it’s moody, instrumental, interesting, and rounds out this album in a way that is best described as being drip-fed creme brûlée after an 8 course tofu meal with occasional palate cleansing spoons of sorbet. I mean, yes, it’s creme brûlée, but I’m full of fucking tofu, asshole.

Score

I love scoring things. My fellow Tea Party fan deleted this album after a single listen through, but I’ve listened to it several times in a row. It’s inoffensive and has a few standout moments. Since you’ll be in a bit of a mindless haze listening to the bland stuff, you’ll be pleasantly shocked awake for those few moments. It’s nothing to write home about, though, and the Tea Party have really dropped the ball on this one. Very disappointing.

Also, wtf is with that cover art? Seriously, worst Tea Party cover since ever.

And yes, I accept that maybe I have to engage more with the art and look closely at its intricacies, but you need to earn my interest before I will spend my time doing that, and you, my old friends, have not.

I rate ‘The Ocean at the End’ a solid:

2.0-stars

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24 thoughts on “I’ve waited. I’ve waited. So long – Reviewing ‘The Ocean at the End’ by the Tea Party

  1. Great review. I’m a big fan, however I find this album offensive at times. A tribute album at best & lyrics are terrible. Last track is the only saving grace for me. This is not the band I remember. I can’t believe they deemed this material good enough to release.

  2. I concur with most of this. It just feels uninspired to me for the most part, and probably an unnecessary release at best. I was also disappointed with “Seven Circles”, so after a ten year wait, I was hoping for some redemption from that mundane release only to be underwhelmed once again by this one. I love these three guys, having seen them live probably at least 20 times and met them several times in person as well, so it pains me to give them a bad review of this release, but it is what is. The album unfortunately speaks for itself and I’m glad it was only $7.99 on iTunes, so I don’t feel completely ripped off. It just doesn’t come close to anything from their first five albums. They are still a great live band, after having seen the “Reformation” DVD released a couple of years ago, but hopefully they avoid playing too much material from this album or its predecessor on the latest touring cycle because the crowds will be lulled to sleep.

    • I agree with everything you’ve said here. I do love them, and they are an amazing live band, and I’ve chased them around Australia before to see them perform. The album costs about $15USD here on iTunes, which is twice as much as it’s worth. My review is harsh, but it seems like the album was phoned in and I refuse to be nice about my disappointment.

  3. Unfortunately I have to agree with the reviewer. Maybe u are a bit harsh but we have to be demanding of the things we admire. Tea Party are one of my top-5 favorite bands but this album is a dull, mellow return compared to all their albums( Transmission my fave too) apart from the Seven Circles which was the first disappointment for me. The fact that they are back together is great and maybe we ll manage to see them live this time here in Greece and Europe in general, but i really hope they ll make better albums than this one in the future.

  4. I am really enjoying the album and your review comes off as someone who didn’t give the album a real chance. I had it playing in the community bike shop where I volunteer, and the guests were asking who it was and saying they like it. None of your complaints are backed up by anything, just you saying you don’t like it.

    • Well, you are absolutely right that I don’t like it, but personal taste is personal taste. People do seem to like it, and that’s great, but I personally don’t understand why. I’ve certainly given the album a chance, though, having listened to it on repeat for over a week. I’m just re listening to the old Tea Party albums now and still enjoy most of them 🙂

      As for reasons why I don’t like it, I thought my comments on the lyrical quality and tiredness of the music was at least some backing for my argument, apart from my mantric repetition of ‘awful’.

      Thanks for reading my review/rant though, and I do really appreciate your leaving time to add a comment. I think the album will do quite well and wish I could afford to go to their concert, which will be the first concert I’ve missed of theirs. The Tea Party are a superb live band.

    • He compared it to their previous works & also expressed his opinion. The album is rubbish & by far their worst. But if the bike shop crew love it, then it must be a masterpiece 😉

    • It’s nice that you like the album, but in reality it’s crap, just like the previous one. This is more of Jeff Martin trying to break out into the USA, which is idiotic of him. Why kill the band (again) instead of just producing more music that their fans actually enjoy? It’s not like all of their albums have been identical; while a lot of people seem to prefer Transmission, or other earlier albums, I actually thought that Interzone Mantras was possibly their best album overall, and it’s a completely different style from their first albums (also their last good album, unfortunately). That’s the point, though–they don’t have to produce the same sound, but they do need to produce songs that aren’t boring, generic, Americanized crap. The author’s opinions are going to be pretty spot on for any long time fan of TTP.

  5. Unlike the album i enjoyed this review. Having just gone to the recent concert in Perth (9/10) i was pretty annoyed at the amount of new material they played. It was also disappointingly short and the venue was pretty stupid for a rock concert.
    http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/the-tea-party/2014/crown-perth-perth-australia-2bccacae.html

    Although the setlist is not entirely accurate as they played parts of transmission amongst temptation. I was hoping for a setlist more like the reformation tour!
    http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/the-tea-party/2012/palais-theatre-melbourne-australia-7bdcb6fc.html

    The songs do sound better live, as the band are fantastic live performers and have a great chemistry and timing. Listening to the album again today i can’t really stand it.
    Although can’t really remember/cared for any songs from anything after Triptych (or any solo work Jeff did)

    The biggest WTF for me was the song The Cass Corridor. When they played it live and where singing about a “skinny little white boy”

    “Skinny little white boy’s taking his time
    Skinny little white boy’s a friend of mine
    Skinny little white boy, he don’t understand
    But, oh, no, he wants to kick out the jams”

    I wonder what Jeff was doing in Detroit…

  6. This is the most perplexing review I have ever read. You clearly don’t get and maybe NEVER got, the Tea Party. This stands jherad & shoulders with the best of their work, and this has been reflected over and over in very positive critical reviews. Thank God they are back, in full gear, and writing damned good music in an age of McMusic. Sorry if I sound harsh, but you just don’t get it!
    -Dave

    • You mention McMusic, but that’s exactly what this album sounds like (as did the previous album), and that’s the point–Jeff Martin wants to break out into the USA, and that’s why they broke up after the generic poop they made before the current album. He went solo (also poop) and came back with more poop.

      Also, are you actually trying to compare a review from someone who actually listened to the music to the review of some magazines/newspapers that likely didn’t even hear one track from the album before sending in some generic drivel to the editor?

  7. That’s cool, Dave, everyone is entitled to their opinion and I appreciate your contribution. I just don’t get the appeal of this album at all, for the (somewhat frustrated) reasons I list above. It’s basically the direction the band has been moving since ‘Heaven Coming Down’, one of their more awful tracks. I sometimes feel as though there are pre- and post- Heaven fans. I’m clearly a pre-Heaven fan.

    Would you agree there seem to be two camps? Are my standards for lyrics too high? It seems to me Jeff’s lyrics are kind of objectively awful and the better songs in this album are good despite them. I mean… What are your thoughts on ‘Brazil’ vs ‘Goodman Rag’ or ‘Transmission’ (the track)?

    • That’s a good point about the 2 camps, and I am inclined to agree with you. I guess I just like the variety of styles here, and the musicianship. Brazil and Cass Corridor are definitely different, but I still like them, perhaps because they do move away from formula. The lyrics for Brazil are not deep, granted, but do follow the time-honoured rock and roll social conscience. The Zep influences that I adore are still there, and the guitar work is excellent. And the power drumming is still there. Looking forward to the Halifax show next month. It’s been a while.

  8. I haven’t really listened to album yet but I think you were a little bit too harsh on the guys. This album is their first after they got together after nine years of being apart which I think of it as an awkward transition period where we shouldn’t expect too much from them. It will take them some time to get their stuff sorted out but I think they need every little support from the fans especially at this time and I am sure we will see them making masterpieces as they did with their previous albums.

    • It is a pretty harsh review, admittedly. The album hasn’t stopped me from seeing their shows of course – the recent 20th anniversary Edges gig was excellent, and Ocean at the End is much better live. I would be interested to hear what you think about the album when you get a few listens in, and whether my ‘stop listening at x seconds’ is remotely accurate. 🙂

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