by Yasmine Shemesh
“I can’t blame this game / All my cards have been dealt / I’m trumped, I’ve been tamed / And lately now / I don’t even feel like myself,” croons Jeff Martin, lead singer of The Tea Party, in his moody baritone. The lyrics from the title track to the Canadian rock band’s new album, The Ocean At The End, are appropriately reflective for a group who has just released their first studio effort in a decade since their 2005 breakup.
The three-piece, who grew up as schoolmates in Windsor, Ontario, accumulated eight gold and platinum records and over two million in global album sales during their 14-year reign in the Nineties and early Noughties. Then, with personal demons and excesses in tow, they went their separate ways.
“We were growing apart as friends, first and foremost,” bassist and keyboardist Stuart Chatwood explains. “I think the root of the problem was that the band was a little disillusioned and we got lost in the party somewhere along the way.” Martin moved to Australia and pursued a solo career, percussionist Jeff Burrows helped form the band Crash Karma and Chatwood worked with video game soundtracks. Nearly seven years passed before the guys, at their agent’s encouragement, reached out to each other again. “Enough water had gone under the bridge,” Chatwood continues. “The fences are getting mended on the friendship front and, creatively, The Ocean At The End contains some of the best work of our careers.”
Going back to their roots was perhaps the key to success for the new album—a far cry from their last effort, 2004’s Seven Circles, where the band was, admittedly, “a bit of a mess, really.” Starting over, they looked to what they knew best: themselves. After recording in Australia, the group returned to their former stomping grounds in Windsor for the remainder of the process, labouring in a sweaty rehearsal space with Martin producing, just like the old days.
Moments of the past resurface through fresh perspectives on nearly every track on The Ocean At The End. The dark frenzy of “Submission” revisits the industrial Transmission; “Brazil”‘s rhythm echoes the ethnic flavours of The Edges of Twilight; the aforementioned title track combines all of the trio’s anomalous enigma into an eight-minute opus, topping it with a wailing two minute guitar solo and contributing flute from Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. “Someone noted that it sounded like a greatest hits record because it’s not uniform, it’s more disjointed,” Chatwood laughs. The lack of fluidity, or its familiarity, is no hindrance, however—quite the opposite. The album delivers arguably the band’s most profound music yet, and further, they sound like what a mature version of The Tea Party should sound like: wise, worldly and confident. “Probably the biggest difference is that we don’t give a damn about what other people think,” Chatwood says. “You don’t want to pander. I’d rather reward a band that takes chances and does things for their own good.”
In their time apart, The Tea Party discovered renewed purpose—not just musically, but individually and within each other. The Ocean At The End is their rebirth; the marker of a new era for three brothers who found themselves and their way back together, free of insecurities, full of authenticity and ready to make beautiful music again. No politics, just rock and roll.
The Tea Party perform at Burton Cummings Theatre (Dec. 2), Flames Central (Calgary) Dec. 5, Union Hall (Edmonton) Dec. 6 and the Commodore Ballroom (Vancouver) on Dec. 9 and 10.
Published in print and online at www.beatroute.ca, December 2014