The Tea Party -'The Edges Of Twilight'
Rating - 10/A
This is one of those absolutely perfect albums that most artists record only about once in their careers - which makes it even more amazing that The Tea Party did so at least twice - their major label debut, Splendor Solis, is similarly flawless, and almost did so again with their third album, Transmission which boldly took their sound into new territory. After that, they pulled back, perhaps alarmed at their own growth and fearful of burnout, perhaps in response to the normalising effect imposed by the collective conservatism of record labels and the larger buying public, and released a string of pleasant, mostly amiable but unadventurous albums before calling it quits last year (2006, if you need to ask). Tchah.
Having chronicled their sad decline, or rather plateau-ing out, I shall now proceed to heap accolades and encomiums on the album presently under consideration. First of all, of course, you want to know: what do they sound like? Well, it's basically brash, chest-thumping classic blues-rock, which was already rather quaint in the mid-90s, but the good lads of TTP had a couple of aces up their sleeve.
For starters, they also had a fetish for the east-meets-west flavour of Led Zep's Kashmir, and spent time learning about the special and exotic instuments and scales that actual eastern music of maily the mid-eastern variety uses instead of endlessly ripping off Kashmir itself. This translates into a variety of eastern motifs and ideas apart from the stacatto-riff thing and the snakecharmer thing, although both are on display here, too. It also means there's all kinds of exotic instruments being played here - 32, the official count goes.
Secondly, while main man Jeff Martin has more than a trace of the swaggering, cocky Jim Morrison/Robbie Plant type rock star persona (he even sounds like Jim Morrison, although he writes marginally more mature poetry, erm, lyrics), he's also picked up cues from the romanticism, despair and so on of various post-punk acts like Joy Division, The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen, even if this isn't immediately evident.
Having said all that, the emotionally intense, romantic and mystical nature of the band's lyrics and sound (music matches lyric perfectly here) isn't everyone's cup of tea. It even seems a trifle overwrought at times to me, lately - a lighter touch at times, a trace of humour would be nice. But that isn't what TTP do, and if you're willing to accept that, you're in for a great ride.
Fire In The Head, Coming Home and Walk With Me are all huge, bombastic rockers but with their own touches of subtlety - the acoustic passage that Coming Home builds from and its strummed verses, for instance. Classic rock-worthy arena filling swagger meets eastern melodicism and romantic lyricism. Pretty heady stuff. The Bazaar has a riff that sounds perfect for strolling through a rollicking, crowded bazaar and the choruses take the song back into dark romantic territory. Turn The Lamp Down Low, Shadows On The Mountainside and Drawing Down The Moon take bluesy motifs and infuse them with a variety of moods and characters. Shadows On The Mountainside is perhaps the most transcendentally contemplative number here, while Drawing Down The Moon roars with desperate romance. Man, that word romance keeps getting used in this review in various forms. It's hard to avoid it though, and if you know this band, you'll have to agree.
Among the slower numbers, The Badger is a gorgeous, folksy instrumental. Correspondences layers pianos, strings and other less-identifiable things, all contributing to truly gorgeous melodies and a brilliant mood - wistful at first and ardent in the climatic end section. Speaking of sections, Sister Awake stands as the very centerpiece of this album. Constructed with a complexity that is outright proggy, it moves from quieter passages through a rapid fire percussive break into a heavier passage, containing one of the most memorable and brilliant sets of changes I've ever heard. This song alone raises the album to stellar heights. It helps that the other material isn't that much worse. Silence is less stunning, but has a similar variety of moods, all perfectly combined.
The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: The swagger of classic rock, combined with eastern intrigue and bluesy grace. Near-perfect songwriting, great melodies everywhere, huge riffs when required, a brilliantly dark and inviting album that actually lives up to all of its considerable ambition.