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]
So! 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.
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.
(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’?
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
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: