Album Reviews

The Tea Party – The Ocean at the End

I grew up in the 80’s, the decade that taste forgot. Believe it or not, I used to listen to the big New Romantic, synth heavy bands like Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Ultravox and Spandau Ballet, to name a few. I won’t bore you with my listening metamorphosis from this mainly radio friendly music through to the progtastic music I tend to listen to today but, I have never lost my soft spot for the music of this decade.

Whenever I hear any music that can transport me back, even the slightest amount, my ears definitely prick up, whether it is a bit of a synth solo or a distinctive vocal. One of the great tracks from that era that I really liked was ‘Dominion’ by the supposed goth rock band Sisters of Mercy. Its powerful synth heavy beat and the deep expressive vocals of front man Andrew Eldritch really touched a chord with me.

You may be wondering where my meanderings are taking us, well, when I heard the opening vocals from venerable Canadian band The Tea Party’s new release ‘The Ocean at the End’, I was immediately transported to the 80’s and ‘Dominion’, the deep baritone voice reminding me of that track. The fact that the rest of the album is rather good also helped too!

Their first release since 2004’s ‘Seven Circles’, it completes the bands circle of resurrection. The Tea Party was formed in 1990 by Jeff Martin (vocals, guitars), Stuart Chatwood (bass, keyboards) and Jeff Burrows (drums, percussion) after a marathon jam session at the Cherry Beach Rehearsal Studios in Toronto, the band released their eponymous debut album in 1991, distributing it through their own label Eternal Discs. 6 succesful studio albums and two million sales globally later they disbanded due to creative differences with Martin abruptly announcing he was going to a solo career.

A rebirth and testament to the strength of the music they have created in the past and the friendship that exists between them, the band think that the new album is the beginning of a new chapter in their career and them actively taking back what is collectively theirs.

 “The time apart gave us such a richer experience to bring to the table when it came to songwriting, because we’ve gone, done other projects and grown up as individuals,” says Chatwood. “The quality of this record speaks for itself.”

Percussionist Burrows concurs. “Individually, we came back with more confidence in ourselves,” Burrows explains. “We’re more mature and self-reliant.”

“It’s all of us equally in it together, which is why The Ocean At The End stands quite possibly might be the strongest thing we’ve done.” Says Martin. “Now it’s time to go out and tour Australia, Canada, South American and Europe, and go to places we haven’t gone before. We’ve laid all this kerosene in different parts of the world through our music – now it’s time to go to those parts and light the match.”

The album opens with L.O.C and it is immediate that Martin’s voice is going to play a big part in your enjoyment (or otherwise of this album). His low baritone is very addictive to these ears and, added with the catchy riff, thumping bass and powerful percussion, you get an upbeat rocker that ticks all the boxes. The jangly guitar note is always in the back of your mind and becomes an earworm that you cannot remove. Taking on a bit of eastern promise The Black Sea has an ululating rhythm that is quite hypnotic and the vocals are perfectly matched. Slower and more deliberate than the opener, it is almost anthem like in its delivery, especially on the uplifting chorus that takes on a life of its own. Martin starts to show his not inconsiderable guitar skills on this song with a superb oriental solo, an impressive wall of sound that rises above and envelops you, leaving you breathless as it comes to a close. Cypher opens up with more of the mystical eastern leanings initiated on the previous track. It is halting and yet precise in its delivery and seems to be building up to the hazy chorus. Dynamic and considered, it is another slab of heavy edged music with a touch of psychedelic creativity. The ever present mesmerising vocals really hold you in sway throughout.

The next track takes a step back and delivers more of a mainstream rock experience, The Maker has a smooth rock edge and could almost be considered to be a mini-ballad as the band enter storyteller mode. Soft, studied and deliberate and a testament to the dexterous skills of the band, it is smooth, silky and quite delightful. Black Roses carries on in a similar vein, if not even more so. Definitively a ballad but with a real country music edge, especially on the soaring steel guitar notes, it reminds me of 90’s American hard rock band Tattoo Rodeo. Incredibly emotive and with Martin’s vocal delivering an incredible soulful feel, there is a heartfelt sincerity inherent in the whole song and I feel an empathy with the music. The introduction to Brazil is a riot of impressive drumbeats and a feeling of urgency engendered by the upbeat rhythm and compelling vocal. There is a distinctive blues feel mixed in with the hard rock sensibilities. The crunching riff and intricate percussion all add in to deliver a song that has you on the edge of your metaphorical seat.

I feel like I’ve fallen into Glam Rock territory with the introduction and riff to The 11th Hour that has Marc Bolan written all over it. Martin’s vocals go temporarily all Jim Morrison on me (which is never a bad thing) and I feel like I need to get my flares out and move to a 70’s beat. It rocks out with an incredibly funky atmosphere and leaves me with a huge grin on my face. Not as big as the grin when the synth heavy intro to Submission begins though, now we’re talking!!! This is as close to classic, heavy 80’s track as you can get and I am in my element. The percussion is superb and totally in period. It is almost as if the band have bottled that 80’s New Wave feel and turned it up to eleven.  The incredibly perceptive vocals are just the icing on the cake and delivered with a cockiness and surety that you just marvel at. To say I am lost in an 80’s world of wonderment for four minutes is a complete understatement, even the backing vocals are perfect! The fun doesn’t stop there though, the next track The Cass Corridor will just blow you away with its immediacy and punk tinges that blend The Ramones with MC5 to give something explosive and mind bending. Superb, wild and distorted guitar and thunderous drumming power the track along at warp speed and the vocals have a deep, velvety touch that just leaves you in a state of euphoria. A short, sharp and intensely energetic song.

Water’s on Fire slows things down after the frenetic duo that preceded it. It is measured and beautifully potent in its own way though and Martin delivers his most passionate and touching vocal performance to date. The depth of feeling and tenderness is almost palpable on this superlative ballad. A heartrending solo full of grace just completes an exquisite track. The title track The Ocean at the End is the most progressively leaning song on the album and adds the magical flute playing skills of Ian Anderson to the mix. A thoughtful and deeply reflecting song that impacts deeply on your psyche, it is wistful and almost ethereal in places as it carries you along in a dreamlike state. I find myself rooted to the spot, in a trance, every time I listen to this song so influential is its attraction. The guitar solo is a thing of beauty and finesse, almost a living thing as it meanders through your mind, captivating you with its complexity and skill and the vocals are at their most expressive and meaningful. As such, it is a fitting end to an impressive album.

Despite the amount of music I listen to on a daily basis, I quite often find myself amazed by a new release that lands in my inbox. This time I was amazed that I’d never heard of this incredible band before, their professionalism and downright brilliance shone to the fore. ‘The Ocean at the End’ is a highlight in a year of superlatives and The Tea Party have returned at what would seem to be an even higher level than before. Buy it, I beseech you!

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