One of the most striking songs of 1969 came out of Nebraska by way of the twenty-sixth century. “In The Year 2525,” credited to the duo of Zager & Evans, seemingly came out of nowhere, falling from the skies and offering one of the bleakest visions of the future. It’s one of the most dystopian visions one can see—humans no longer having the ability to think; they’ve evolved and no longer have eyes and teeth; food—and correct thoughts-are ingested through injected pills, children are selected from a tube, and humans have no functioning limbs, as all work is done for them by computers. (Come to think of it, that last one is terribly close to reality in 2016!) This litany of humanity’s fate is delivered over what seems to be a discordant orchestra and synthesizers, topped off with some gorgeous harmonies. Unfortunately, Zager & Evans disappeared almost as quickly as they came, and In The Year 2525: The RCA Masters 1969-1970, collects most of their recordings from their brief time on earth.
It’s not surprising why Zager & Evans didn’t last for very long. Their debut album, 2525 (Exordium & Terminus), appeared in 1969 and was built around the title song. While “In The Year 2525” is eerie, disturbing, and otherworldly, the rest of the album consists of okay but pretty standard baroque/sunshine pop, with just a hint of psychedelia. There are moments, though; “Carrie Lynn Javes” is catchy and upbeat, as is “Taxi Man.” “Fred,” however, is a lush, Scott Walker-like anti-military number about a psychotic kid named Fred who goes to Vietnam and comes back a heartless killer who murders a man. It’s disturbing and yet compelling. However,“Less Than Tomorrow” is pure schlock; with a narrative being told in a heavy Criswell-like style, it’s laughable and embarrassing, and marred what is a rather lovely record.
1970’s follow-up, Zager & Evans, upped the psychedelic promise of their hit, but once again, the album starts one way and ends another. It begins with a five minute “Overture” that’s trippy and full of sonic tricks like pitch shifting, tape manipulation, and sudden tempo changes….and then immediately drops that style, in favor for horn-heavy soul-inspired rock with a funky rhythm. “In My House” and “Crutches,” are good, but they accentuate them with distracting and pointless synth bleeps and bloops simply to seem “futuristic.” But then they turn in mellower, almost languid songs like “During Rem” and “The Candy Machine,” which is slightly confusing, as they alternate between both styles. But they really pile on the schlock with “The Plastic Park” is meant to be a social commentary along the lines of “In The Year 2525,” but it sounds forced and comes across as preachy. Overall, though, Zager & Evans sounds confused; it’s the work of two different bands, and the attempt to combine the styles just doesn’t gel.
Perhaps what really doomed them, though, was their follow-up single, “Mr. Turnkey.” It’s featured on their second album, but was released in the wake of “In The Year 2525.” Whoever made the decision to follow up a worldwide smash single with a song about a penitent rapist who nails his wrists to the wall of his prison cell was an idiot. No better word exists to describe the illogical—nay, stupid—decision to do that. Radio wouldn’t touch it; a censored version appeared, but it was too little, too late. The momentum was halted, and their subsequent singles, Zager & Evans, and its follow up, 1971’s Food For The Mind, went largely unheard and ignored.
Though the material found on In The Year 2525: The RCA Masters 1969-1970 is overall quite lovely, the identity crisis about who they were and what their sound should be ultimately hurt them. But there’s a larger truth at play: Sometimes, a band only has one good song in them, and man, Zager & Evans’ one song is amazing….
Categories: Album Reviews