I’ve approached this album knowing nothing of Zorbonauts, but frankly intrigued by the line-up. With a reunited Spock’s Beard rhythm section (Nick D’Virgilio and Dave Meros), and Geoff Downes on keyboards, one might expect some prog greatness. The prime mover behind the band, though, is vocalist and writer Lynden Williams, formerly with Jerusalem (along with guitarist Bob Cooke who guests). Williams writes some interesting and snappy rock songs, not terribly proggy, but very listenable with incisive and witty lyrics and melodic hooks aplenty, bolstered by some crunchy guitar playing, courtesy of Ollie Hannifen. Harmony vocals are provided by Rachael Hawnt (The Beautiful Secret), and Rachel Hall (Big Big Train) guests on violin.
The Unobserved Beaver begins with the rocky Don’t Give A Monkeys, a hilarious but accurate swipe at the sort of social media muppet who thinks they know everything. We’ve all come across them, and this song parodies their antics in amusing fashion. The musicianship is crisp and tight as you might expect with some of the players involved, and it rocks!
The album is a mixture of new songs, covers, and re-recorded Jerusalem tracks given a new lease of life, and musically it’s muscular and dynamic rock with a prog/indie twist. Apart from the covers, the songs are all new to me, and sit together very happily, despite being an assortment of amusing stories and serious subjects given sharp twists. My Death in Germany, for example, is a story right out of Spinal Tap, but is apparently true, and relates an occasion when Jerusalem were playing a festival in Germany at which Lynden ‘died’ on stage, perhaps an electric shock, but was resuscitated by some US army medics who were attending. It’s an entertaining tale, with rocking verses that sound reminiscent of Back in the USSR to my ears! Downes’ retro sounding keyboards give a seventies flavour, and are excellent.
In contrast, the penultimate track Sick! is about the Holocaust, although delivered in a very matter of fact way belying the nature of the lyrics, which are graphic. Rachael’s harmony vocals work beautifully on this piece, adding atmosphere and depth. The breakdown acoustic guitar section is gorgeous, underpinned by tasteful bass notes from Meros.
The covers are an odd mixture. Mississippi Summer is a pleasant song by June Tabor and The Oyster Band; pleasant but unremarkable. Badge is the Cream classic of course, but based on the live arrangement used at the reunion concerts from 2005, and it works well. The last one is Hendrix’s Stone Free, an energetic version which is respectful, but quite a different feel to the original, and my favourite of the three.
Zorbonauts leave the longest and most traditionally progressive sounding track to last. According to Williams, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is the greatest song Jerusalem played live but never recorded. Until now that is. Ominous keys and guitar set the scene for a dramatic tour-de-force which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Diamond Head album. Chugging guitars and soaring synth build the tension and lead us to the overblown climax. It’s all tongue in cheek, but terrific fun.
So in conclusion, I find myself returning to this album often. It’s the sound of top notch musicians cutting loose and having fun. It’s crunchy heavy sound is accessible and melodic, and the songs are engaging. Lynden writes lyrics which can be hilarious one minute, and dead serious the next, sometimes in the same song. He’s a talented frontman with obvious charisma, and it would be great to see the band playing live, if that is ever possible! Yes, ok, unlikely, but I’m convinced it would be huge fun, and we need more fun in the world right now.
01. Don’t Give A Monkeys (3:59)
02. Over The Chasm (4:47)
03. Mississippi Summer (3:25)
04. Shangri-La (4:30)
05. Badge (3:59)
06. Spiders’ Rendezvous (4:14)
07. My Death in Germany (4:43)
08. Stone Free (4:00)
09. Sick! (5:17)
10. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (7:33)
Total Time – 48:27
Lynden Williams – Vocals
Geoff Downes – Keyboards
Ollie Hannifan – Guitars
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums
Dave Meros – Bass
Rachael Hawnt – Vocals
Bob Cooke – Additional Guitar
Rachel Hall – Violin
Record Label: Singsong Music
Date of Release: 24th July 2020
Zorbonauts – Website