Classic Zeus is sturdy and stormproof, and has enough memorable hooky hooks to make your head spin.
Toronto’s Zeus found itself at a crossroads after a lengthy tour behind 2012’s Busting Visions. The group thought about breaking up, but instead decided to push itself further. The end result, as they say, is Classic Zeus. This new album, which also follows 2010’s Say Us, which was longlisted for the Polaris Prize, shows a new side of the band that is more pop oriented than Busting Visions. While that album had a fantastic opener in “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?”, it quickly devolved into somewhat proggy territory and was mediocre at best. Classic Zeus, however, is much more streamlined and feels more like a true album, even if it doesn’t boast a track that is as sterling as “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” And if the cover art is vaguely reminiscent of Love’s seminal 1967 album Forever Changes, that’s just a cue as to where Zeus is headed on this new release. Indeed, the Summer of Love is even referenced on “Miss My Friends”. Classic Zeus is largely a folksy, countrified album, and while some may scoff and call this "dad rock", there’s a real propulsion and heft to these songs, and, overall, the LP is a joy to listen to -- much more so than their previous outing. This is a newish direction for the band, and the addition of new colors to their sonic palette works well.
Despite the overall pop concessions, the disc’s motto can be easily summed up by a lyric in the song “Everybody’s Got One”: “Rock ‘n’ roll is everywhere / Stick to what you know.” Just like Busting Visions, Classic Zeus finds the group exploring the nooks and crannies of ‘70s-style rock. “Miss My Friends”, the album’s first single (which was also played on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon), is a bubbly, jaunty bit of proto-funk that ranks among the record’s highlights. This is a track that should be destined for a dance floor somewhere near you and is a head nodding and foot thumping good time. In some alternate universe, this could be a Peter Bjorn and John number. However, the album is stuffed to the gills with softer songs that draw a straight line towards Neil Young territory. Opening number “Where Is My Love” has a gently strummed country-ish melody that sticks out, even if it does feel a smidge truncated at just two minutes and 17 seconds long. The song begs to be stretched out a bit more, however. With a number of songs on this affair running in the two minute range, Zeus seem content to zoom in and out, making the album seem like a sort of Guided by Voices homage. If you don’t like one song, don’t worry, as another is just around the corner generally. The brevity leaves some strength to the LP’s replay ability: if you like something, and want it to last and linger, all you have to do is hit the repeat button.
Perhaps the album’s standout is buried at the very end: closer “Throw It on the Fire” could quite easily pass for a Crosby, Stills and Nash piece. It’s got a peaceful vibe to it, and is just the kind of thing you could unwind with on the hammock. Its refrain is pretty much a summation of where the band is going with this release: “Take your past and throw it on the fire.” Classic Zeus boasts an outfit that is throwing away the shackles of brisk rock and settling on something much more mellow. “You Could Have a Lover” is vaguely Beatles-esque, with a guitar part that sounds a lot like George Harrison’s work. It also has a lazy reverby guitar line in its bridge that is very similar to the sound mined on the recent release from another Canadian band, PS I Love You’s For Those Who Stay. “27 Is the New 17” is also vaguely indicative of the past, as its melody is familiar, something that’s on the tip of my tongue, but I just can’t quite place. “Straight Through the Light” is a much more folksy take on something the Raspberries might have pulled off all those years ago. Despite its laidback air, it could still pass for power pop. “Bonnieview” is a piano hammered ditty that definitely has a glammy feel to it.
Basically, Classic Zeus is a reference point for things that have come and gone, and works remarkably well as an artistic proclamation. While it’s not as entirely sleek as it could be, and, again, doesn’t boast something that is completely outstanding in the way that “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” is, this is a collection of mostly mellow tunes that are quite pleasing. It seems that the band has worked harder than before to craft something that stretches itself as a bonafide long-player, and the effort shows in the craft and care of the final product. Classic Zeus is sturdy and stormproof, and has enough memorable hooky hooks to make your head spin. It’ll be intriguing to see where this outfit goes from here: does the band turn in another album that references country rock sounds more so than this platter does, or does this album go nowhere, and Zeus considers calling it day for real this time? Here’s hoping that, based on what Classic Zeus brings to listeners, the scenario is more of the former and none of the latter. Zeus is simply too good of a group here to justify throwing in the towel, and one wishes that this album finds a home with listeners who love honest-to-goodness good music. This is a beguiling album, and one that merits a great deal of interest. Zeus, the band, might not be as all powerful as the Greek God they reference, but Classic Zeus is still a very potent blend of the past, and is well worth your time and money.