Zorbonauts - The Unobserved Beaver [Talking Elephant Records - 2021]
The Zorbonauts are a band I knew absolutely nothing about when the CD arrived, and the album’s cover artwork doesn’t give too much away. It’s not until you look at the personnel that you begin to get a sense of what this is, but even that offers us something of a curveball.
The band feature Nick D’Virgilio (Drums and Percussion) and Dave Meros (Bass) from Spock’s Beard and legendary keyboard wizard Geoff Downes (Yes, Buggles and Asia), however, these prog legends are not the band’s driving force, that role seems to belong to vocalist Lynden Williams (formerly of proto-metal legends Jerusalem) alongside his writing partners guitarists Ollie Hannifan and his former Jerusalem bandmate Bob Cooke, who appears on three tracks all of which he co-wrote with Williams. The band is completed by vocalist Rachael Hawnt, from The Beautiful Secret, there are also cameo appearances from violinist Rachel Hall (Big Big Train) and producer Rob Aubrey (Jadis, IQ and Big Big Train) who is listed as providing additional this and that.
The music is what I would term pure unadulterated classic 1970s tinged rock music. No frills, no pretensions and no genre-bending just straight-ahead rock and roll. Sonically the band are top-notch, the musicianship on display here is of the very highest standard, and it has to be said this doesn’t feel like a band that has been put together for the express aim of making money, they sound like they’re having the time of their lives. Williams at times sounds a little like David Coverdale before his ego blew out of control and whilst most of his originals have satirical lyrics, the songs never feel like they are treated any less seriously for that.
Opener "Don’t Give A Monkey’s" is a classic rock anthem in the vein of Uriah Heep at their best, "Over the Chasm" follows in much the same manner, both tracks are catchy and after a few listens you can’t help finding yourself singing along. Up next is the first cover June Tabor and the Oyster Band’s "Mississippi Summer", which works really well and lead me to dig out the original for the sake of comparison (for the record I like both versions but feel I would be more likely to listen to the Zorbonauts version). "Shangri-La" and "Spider’s Rendezvous" continue the band’s original output in the same rich vein as the openers and once again after a few listens you find yourself singing along. This is simply, good, solid, melodic rock music the way it used to be. Their version of the Cream's classic "Badge" is played perfectly, whilst they put their own spin on their version of Hendrix’s "Stone Free", turning it into the 80s infused funk rock masterclass. "My Death in Germany" harks back to The Beatles classic, "The Ballad of John and Yoko", but tells the story of the night Lynden briefly died on stage at a festival in Germany when performing with Jerusalem. "Sick!" Serves as a reminder of the atrocities performed by the nazis, something that seems so relevant in these times when the far-right are once again on the march. The album closer "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" is an epic slab of heavy metal goodness, all chugging guitars, vocal gymnastics and lyrical histrionics. It’s a fitting way to close out the album and I would love to hear the band record more songs like this one.
Overall, The Unobserved Beaver is a thoroughly enjoyable slice of classic rock, it does exactly what it says on the tin, but it does it well. The performances are, as one would expect of those involved, superb and Williams satirical lyrics are funny and refreshing, yet never make it feel like a joke project. I’ve just noticed they have another album just out and am off to give that a spin to see if it recaptures the same magic.Darren Charles