By: Robert Liwanag –
On The Ocean at the End, Canadian rock trio The Tea Party faced a dilemma as a band re-entering music whether to follow the trends of contemporary music, reinvent its sound, or stick to what it knows best. They chose the latter (arguably the riskier decision for a band that’s been out of the game for so long). Frontman Jeff Martin’s signature baritone voice still dominates the songs, and the band still invoke the “more is more” philosophy sonically, but they have has also figured out when to strip compositions to their barest essentials when necessary, and even try new things.
The Tea Party has never been an especially popular band outside of Canada, now mostly remembered for “Heaving Coming Down,” which reached number one on the Canadian charts back in 1999. Frankly, progressive rock is a genre notorious for needless musical complexity and lyrical meanderings – of which this album is not short. In other words, The Tea Party is the kind of band that music snobs love to make fun of and deem uncool. With The Ocean at the End, you wouldn’t argue with such listeners. The band’s heavy-handed religious imagery (“The Maker”) damage otherwise great songs, and many of the tracks on the album sound uncomfortably out of step with the times (“The Black Sea”).
The album’s lows are fairly low, but its highs are memorable. On “Submission,” the band channels The Downward Spiral-eraNine Inch Nails. “Share your dark desires, I promise you I’ll take my time, girl,” Martin sings, evoking both Trent Reznor and Nick Cave. It’s perhaps the catchiest track on the album, completely unembellished by redundant instrumentation. The brief electronic flourishes near the end of the title track could have been explored further, too. Surprisingly, The Tea Party seem more comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone than rehashing their old sound.
The Ocean at the End is not a major work from Canadian rock veterans. It probably won’t gain many new fans for the band, or lead to the comeback that the trio are most likely hoping for, and its sonic experiments are still raw sketches that desperately need to be fleshed out. It is, however, the sound of a band that feels it has nothing left to prove. “There are no insecurities, we’re making music for ourselves and we’re having fun, that’s the whole point of it all,” said Martin in a press release. The Ocean at the End is the sound of a band dropping their brooding world-weary attitude and simply rocking out, to mixed results.
Essential Tracks: “The Line of Control,” “Submission” and “The Cass Corridor.”