Canadian rockers The Tea Party are surely going to surprise their core fanbase with Seven Circles, their Inside Out debut. I personally know very little about this band, as I've never heard any of their previous discs in their entirety. However, I know what makes this band so special for their dedicated followers: their love for world music, the incorporation of Middle Eastern instruments and melodies to their own sound, and their magical vocal harmonies.
Listening to Seven Circles, I've come to the conclusion that it is by no means a disappointing album for what it is. It has good sound, rocking songs, and admirable musicianship. However, it certainly opts for a more direct and in-your-face type of approach. Gone or reduced is the dark and moody atmosphere on their previous songs. The Middle Eastern flavours are toned down or even nonexistent with a few very short exceptions. The songwriting is more immediate, straying away from any sort of experimentation The Tea Party are known to command. Their songs build on groovy guitar rhythms, fat bass sounds, and curious vocal harmonies courtesy of Jeff Martin. The average Tea Party fan may look down on Seven Circles, but one has to acknowledge Martin's knack for writing hooky melodies and catchy choruses, flawlessly executed on the album starter "Writing's on the Wall", a Led Zeppelin-flavoured classic rock piece, or the more structured "Stargazer", despite its obvious rock leanings, one of those classic Tea Party tunes with a very modern arrangement and sampled electronic sounds.
The band has worked with two different producers on the album, one of them being Bob Rock who handled three of the songs. The Bob Rock influence shows itself on the more polished numbers "Overload" and "The Watcher". The songs are mediocre compared to the other tunes, but "Coming Back Again" does contain some Tea Party characteristics in its scope and features a nice guitar theme, which sadly seems to be missing on most of this record. As a matter of fact, Martin only plays one full solo on Seven Circles, namely the successful title track. It's a long solo over a minute of running time and borrows rich fusion elements. Given its musical context, it really works well wrapped around all those ethnic percussion beats and Eastern textures. The other tune that I like a lot is the ballad "Oceans". This was written in tribute to the band's long-time manager and friend Steve Hoffmann, and whilst the vocals may give you the idea that they needed more production work, I read in several sources that Jeff Martin recorded his vocals at one go and refused to re-sing them, for fear he may not be able to capture the same intensity. I do respect that - and certainly find the sincerity in his voice comes through excellently.
Canadian female singer Holly McNarland guests on "Wishing You Would Stay" and duets with Martin, producing beautiful vocal harmonies. The song could be criticised for its pop standard parameters, but that aside, it is very well written and performed. I have the European version of Seven Circles which features three videos from the band's recent tour. Perhaps not the best place to start with Tea Party, and certainly not as good a classic rock album as, say, Inside Out's other recent outputs, such as the new Spiritual Beggars or King's X. I guess it would be in Tea Party's best interest to churn out a return-to-form album with less polished production and less aim for marketability. They are much better prefered that way.
- Writing's on the Wall
- One Step Closer
- Coming Back Again
- Empty Glass
- Wishing You Would Stay
- Seven Circles