Ten years is a long time for a compilation to come to fruition. Such is the case with INTO THE AFTERLIFE. I had originally planned this collection of post-Zombies pieces to be issued shortly after the release in October 1997 of “Zombie Heaven”, almost as a fifth disc, especially as some tracks on “Afterlife” had been contenders for inclusion on the box. In the event it has taken the best part of a decade to gather the appropriate clearances but I think you will agree that it has been well worth the wait.
This is technically not a Zombies album, though it does contain performances by Colin Blunstone, Rod Argent, Chris White, Hugh Grundy and Paul Atkinson, together and separately. As 1968 dawned, with the imminent dissolution of the five friends’ partnership after seven years together, it seemed that for some of the quintet at least, the Zombies had been a magical but ultimately fleeting adventure. “Afterlife” is, essentially, what the members of the Zombies did next. It documents the relatively brief but murky period between the end of the group, and the establishment of long term music careers by its main protagonists: two years that were also highlighted by the sudden re-emergence of the Zombies “brand” as a major commercial force, thanks to the belated and quite unexpected American success of the final single Time Of The Season and the group’s brilliant swansong, “Odessey & Oracle”.
It draws from three different sets of repertoire: Rod and Chris’ demos en route to the formation of Argent, pop experiments that on the one hand are markedly different to what these two exemplary writers had done in the past, yet bear the classy hallmark of the “Odessey” songbook; the augmented Zombies material that the duo prepared for the aborted “R.I.P” album; and the small cache of recordings Colin made as Neil MacArthur, including his revamp of She’s Not There which charted in the spring of 1969. Virtually everything on “Afterlife” has not been reissued before, and over half has never been available anywhere.
The demos provide a chance to hear fabled lost songs such as Unhappy Girl and To Julia, which were deemed inappropriate for the direction the band Argent would take, as well as the embryonic versions of much-loved tunes like She Loves The Way They Love Her. The personnel utilised for the demo sessions was a dry-run for Rod’s planned new group, including Jim Rodford on bass and Hugh Grundy on drums. We also hear a rare Chris White vocal on Mr Galileo. The enviable harmonies of messrs Argent and White are also to the fore on the “orchestral” mixes of vintage Zombies outtakes re-dressed for “R.I.P.”, remixed so as to showcase both the overdubbed vocals and Mike Vickers’ expert string and horn arrangements.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of “Afterlife” are the Neil MacArthur sides, which are rarely discussed even by diehard fans of Colin Blunstone. Though they were unrelated to Chris and Rod’s concurrent activities and, as Colin himself explains in the sleeve notes, it was a most uncertain period in the singer’s career, these are some great performances from one of the most distinctive voices in British pop. Overseen by producer Mike Hurst, we feature all six tracks originally released on three Deram singles in 1969, including exemplary versions of Nilsson’s Without Her and Billy Vera’s Don’t Try To Explain, and Hurst’s own World Of Glass. A special bonus was the discovery in the producer’s vault of two unreleased cuts from the sessions, including Colin’s absolutely gorgeous rendering of the Buffalo Springfield’s Hung Upside Down. The arrangements are all late 60s British record-making at its classiest.
Last but not least, there are a couple of continentally-flavoured bonus cuts: the super-rare Italian language version of She’s Not There, and Going To A Go Go, performed live by the Zombies on French TV in late 1966. Though it consists of live rave-ups, bare-boned demos and commercial items aimed squarely at the charts, “Into The Afterlife” actually hangs together in an oddly satisfying manner, a cohesion that could be expected of few others in pop at the time. As the last Zombies single of the 60s postulated, If It Don’t Work Out: a lot of what’s here indeed did not “work out”, but most other artists should be as lucky to have ephemera of this calibre to throw away.
By Alec Palao
Click here for our complete range titles by The Zombies.