The Tea Party
his is tough. The Tea Party, a Canadian Rock trio that took Led Zeppelin’s East-meets-West fusion to its apex on 1999’s Triptych with songs like “Samsara” and “The Halcyon Days”, has bottomed-out. There, I said it. What makes this even more painful is that the drop-off is utterly explicable. The band decided to relinquish their superb sound.
That’s right. The Tea Party’s utterly unique approach of picking up obscure, antique Eastern instruments, fixing them up, teaching themselves to play them, and featuring them prominently on their albums was scrapped so that they could explore “…stripped down, very, very heavy guitar rock”, as front man Jeff Martin put it. The band began talking about “roots” and “jam sessions”. No longer did the threesome walk into an obscenely pricey studio with their strange looking instruments in tow, having penned not a single song, only to crank out strange, impossibly dense, obsessively produced epics. Now they “jammed” together and recorded the “organic” stuff that came out. Great. Ansel Adams traded in that whole landscape thing for a gig taking family portraits at Sears. This makes the world a better place?
Seemingly overnight, the very traits which made The Tea Party (along with Tool) one of the most innovative hard rock acts going were dismissed as old hat. When The Interzone Mantras hit shelves in 2001, the world got a nauseating dose of The (new) Tea Party. The “heavy” guitar licks were clichéd, the ballads overwrought and Martin’s lyrics—once gloriously pretentious—had grown lazy, sounding obdurately unrevised. How was a hardcore fan supposed to respond? “Go get ’em next time, Tiger”? I didn’t have the heart. The end was nigh and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Looking at today’s Tea Party is like ogling a palsied beauty queen. You can kind of see what turned your granddad’s head forty years ago, but there’s no way you’d ever go there. Martin still flaunts his sexy, gothic, baritone delivery and Jeff Burrows’ drumming remains criminally underrated. In essence, the chef’s skills remain intact, but he steadfastly refuses to cook with his exotic spice set.
Seven Circles is really no different from The Interzone Mantras. Enlisting past-his-prime producer Bob Rock (Metallica, The Cult) and pop-sensible Gavin Brown (Billy Talent, Three Days Grace), The Tea Party does their organic “jam” thing for a second time, crafting run-of-the-mill hard rock tunes that wouldn’t stand out in an Ozzfest lineup. Martin’s lyrics have degraded even further, as evidenced by lines like “And I know that you feel it hurts us now / Like a thorn beneath a rose” and “And if I promised an ocean / Would you care for the notion?” Yikes!
If this review can impart anything positive, let it be that some of The Tea Party’s early work was truly superior. 1995’s The Edges of Twilight boasted Martin’s most emotive lyrics on tracks like “Sister, Awake” and “Correspondences”, 1997’s Transmission remains one of the finest examples of electronica’s positive influence on rock (and is easily the most consistent of the band’s releases), 1996’s EP Alhambra is a sterling example of the Eastern complexity the band could produce, even in an acoustic form, and 1999’s Triptych, though inconsistent, featured the lush ballad “Gone”, among other, more bombastic tracks. Even 2000’s best-of collection, Tangents, delivered the ornate, orchestral single “Walking Wounded”. This may be the last time you hear about these remarkable tunes, so do yourself a favor and give them a listen.
Reviewed by: R. S. Ross
Reviewed on: 2004-09-13