For a review of The Tea Party’s Live in Australia album by Deke at Stick It in Your Ear, click here!
Tea Party fans are often split on Transmission. There is little doubt that the previous Edges of Twilight album was a high water mark. With over an hour of exotic and varied folks-blues-rock hybrids, it’s a favourite for many. The band took a stark turn on Transmission, embracing electronics. Jeff Martin produced the album himself, and you could not expect a more opposite album to Twilight. Thanks to the opening single “Temptation”, the album was another hit. Most fans seemed OK with the changes.
At first, it doesn’t seem like anything is unusual in Tea Party land. “Temptation” (the album version anyway) opens with a fair bit of exotic strumming on some sort of stringed instrument, as the Tea Party often do. Then the samples and looped drums kick in, and they are huge! Middle Eastern exotics, radio noise, keyboards and a killer riff all combine with loops to create a new kind of Tea Party. So far so good — the experiment paid off.
Martin had a penchant for odd song titles on this album, like “Army Ants”. Vocals furiously distorted, this makes for a heavier Tea Party. Jeff Burrows is providing some excellent drum backbeats, but at times they are buried under other sounds. The title track “Transmission” is way better though, burning like electronic incense. Static, loops and acoustics return for “Psychopomp”, one of the five singles they released. While it takes a while to get there, “Psychopomp” boasts a powerfully melodramatic chorus, Martin roaring as he does. “Gyroscope” has a spinning sound, one of the more hypnotic tracks (and also a single). One of the more impressive singles was the ballad “Release”. This was eventually given an EP of its own which we’ll look at another time. A basic keyboard/drum ballad, it is simple and bleak but hard to forget. It almost reminds of early 80’s Robert Plant.
There isn’t a lot of variety and distinction between the songs. “Alarum” repeats the formula: Electronic effects, exotic sounds, roared-out chorus. This was the disappointing factor with Transmission. The band had established themselves with a diverse sound, but that sound is narrowed on Transmission. All the same ingredients are there, but they are focused by the electronic lens, which sharpens them but also bleaches them to all one colour. “Babylon” is one of the exceptions, with drum & bass elements, and off-kilter song structure. It was appropriately given a very bizarre music video. An interesting experiment, but not as affective a song as something simpler like “Release”.
The Tea Party had some fun in other ways too. They like hidden bonus tracks, but this time they didn’t stick one at the end. They stuck an instrumental (dubbed “Embryo”) at the end of track 8 (“Babylon”). It’s actually a cool little piece of music.
Since the Tea Party are an ever-evolving band, it was safe to assume they would not stay in the electronics lab forever. Their next album, Triptych, was different again. Transmission remains their most loop-heavy album to date. At least they did it at the right time — The Prodigy’s massive mainstream album The Fat of the Land was released mere months before. The public were ready and hungry for computer-precise beats and samples, and the Tea Party delivered a unique hybrid with their own brand of rock. For the most part, it worked.