A solid return

Two years ago The Tea Party showed beyond any doubt that they could bring their magic back in performance mode, but perhaps the greater challenge was being able to recreate it in the studio again.

At first it seemed that The Ocean at the End was going to be a let down – first single ‘Water’s on Fire’ was a mild disappointment and the randomly-ordered stream of rough mixes on offer as a pre-release promo wasn’t the best indication of how the album would unfold.

The way that it does unfold is, of course, dramatically, opening with the Zeppelin-flavoured ‘The LoC’ sounding strongly like ‘Song Remains the Same’ in more than one place; the spirit of Zep has long loomed large over The Tea Party, especially early on, but here they come a little too close for comfort. It’s a strong opener, all the same. ‘The Black Sea’, then, is classic Tea Party with its mesmerising hook and Jeff Martin’s resonating baritone weaving esoteric spells. It’s on the heavier tracks that the band really fires, weaving their classic rock style together with flourishes of electronica and the exotic tones they are so well known for. ‘Cypher’ reintroduces the Eastern-flavoured tropes the band is best associated with, then in ‘Brazil’ the band takes on an appropriately carnivale flavour as they expand their palette into South American sounds with a long percussive intro sprinkled with chanting, the upbeat vibe craftily disguising the darkness of the lyrics. ’11th Hour’ and the bluesy jam ‘Cass Corridor’ recall the vibe of Martin’s The Ground Cries Out album while ‘Submission’ hearkens to the likes of Transmission tracks ‘Temptation’ and ‘Pulse’. The quieter numbers tend to lack the same spark: ‘Water’s on Fire’ works somewhat better in the context of the album than it did as a stand alone track but both it and the rather interminable ‘Black Roses’ fail to attain anywhere near the heights of glorious ballads like ‘Release’ and ‘Requiem’. The Tea Party save their best effort for last, with the sprawling, evocative epic that is the title track. Here, the entire band steps up a notch with Martin’s rambling Jimmy Page-inspired guitar solo the added shine on what is already a spectacular moment in the band’s career that winds down into closing number ‘Into the Unknown’, something of a long coda composed of surging, distorted electronics, distortion and warped, indistinct vocals.

At more than five minutes, it’s probably way too long but it shows off a more experimental side of The Tea Party that they don’t otherwise much explore on The Ocean at the End. While Jeff Martin’s soloing makes a welcome return on many of the tracks, the band has been careful not to expand their sound too much, instead apparently concentrating on announcing their comeback with a solid return. Apart from a couple of lesser-inspired songs, The Tea Party has mostly succeeded.

1. The LoC
2. The Black Sea
3. Cypher
4. The Maker
5. Black Roses
6. Brazil
7. 11th Hour
8. Submission
9. Cass County
10. Water’s on Fire
11. The Ocean at the End
12. Into the Unknown