Does originality have an inherent value? Your response to this question may well determine your reaction to Canadian classic rockers Zeus and their debut offering SayUs . If you aren’t the sort to be put off by a band’s lack of innovation and you enjoy mid-tempo upbeat guitar rock for its own sake, you may well find a lot to love here. If, however, you demand some attempt at sonic novelty from a record, look elsewhere.
Zeus were originally a backing band for Toronto based songwriter Jason Collet and their roots as the supporting men do show through in Say Us. Opting for a democratic approach to singing and song writing, each of the three core members takes their turn to be the main man, and yet they still achieve a remarkable coherence of sound throughout Say Us in a way vaguely reminiscent of Menomena’s Mines. However, where Menomena used the multiple-songwriter format to create a sound of their own, Zeus seem content to rely very heavily on the classic rock sound of the Sixties and construct a record that feels overfamiliar. Each of the three singers has brought energy and real vocal talent in their transition from back-up to lead vocalist but none of them seem to have brought anything individual or distinctive to make them stand out from the crowd. Plus there are several points where Mike O’Brien, in particular, sounds quite a lot like Fran Healy from Travis.
That said, there is some really delightful and well-constructed music to be enjoyed on Say Us. From the feel-good anthemic ending to ‘Kindergarten’ - “ All us people, we’ve got fire within us! ” - to the gorgeous way the ending of ‘Greater Times on the Wayside’ bleeds into the opening to ‘The River By the Garden’, it’s easy to appreciate a record put together skillfully by very talented players. ‘You Gotta Teller’ is, apparently, a live favourite; it’s easy to work out why. It’s probably the strongest song on here – one to check out if you want a flavour – the slightly distorted vocals, pounding drums and insistent organ drive the song along at a furious pace; it is easy to imagine crashing up and down to it being played live.
However, one place where the lack of originality is felt particularly strongly is in the lyrics: “feeling the fever of the time” and “my eyes are sick of crying” give you an idea of what’s in store. Thankfully they are rarely as clunky as in the opening track though, “Friends you didn’t have ‘cause you were cruel” followed up by “And because you’ve never been to school”. Couple this with some other straight-out-of-the-rhyming-dictionary couplets and a section that sounds not unlike Madness and ‘How Does it Feel?’ may be a rather off-putting opening.
Zeus acknowledge the financial support of the ‘Department of Canadian Heritage’ in the creation of this record, which is fitting as ‘heritage’ is a word that comes to mind here. Whether or not Say Us is the record for you will depend both on your tolerance for classic rock and on how highly you prize originality.
6Pieter J Macmillan's Score