On their first two albums, Zeus was sometimes criticized for not veering far enough from their classic rock influences. But on their third outing, the cheekily titled Classic Zeus, the most memorable moments ape the band members’ forefathers in the most direct and, most importantly, the simplest way possible. The sublime “Bonnieview” literally sounds like Holland-era Beach Boys teaming up with Thin Lizzy, all weird harmonies and dueling solos. By sticking to a two-part equation, Zeus creates something that’s distinctly hooky and distinctly their own.
Upon first listen, I thought that same successful formula applied to all of Classic Zeus. At 36 minutes, it floated by, never raising any initial red flags in terms of lyrics or musicality. It was pleasant, sunny, and inoffensive. But, a few weeks on and several spins later, it was difficult to pick out one song from another. Whenever I thought of the album and sat down to write about it, the only thing that came to mind was “Bonnieview” and its imaginary supergroup.
It’s not that the rest of Classic Zeus is some radical redefinition of the band, or even all that different from “Bonnieview”. It’s more an issue of — to put it bluntly — songs with too many ’60s and ’70s influences, and too many sections. The tropical “Straight Through the Light” stays unified by what sounds like steel drums, luau guitar, and castanets, but it’s hard to tell where the verse, chorus, and bridge start and end. The instrumental unity clashes with the constant jumps, making for something that’s numbingly dreamy.
“You Could Have a Lover” suffers a similar fate, its chord progressions constantly descending, then morphing into a series of broken-up drum rolls, followed by a psychedelic break, and, finally, a reversed sequence of the opening chords. Before any of these elements can stick, it’s on to the next one. To Zeus’s credit, every shift is still rooted in AM pop, so none of it comes off as jarring. But indistinctness can be even harder to wade through than abrasion. While Classic Zeus sounds like it’s supposed to be catchy, it’s ultimately impossible to remember.
Essential Tracks: “Bonnieview”