The octopus has eight arms, three hearts and occupies strange and beautiful coral reefs. The Bees have 12 arms, six hearts and occupy the (certainly strange) Isle Of Wight. But, while this separatism has long been explained away as the root cause of their music’s supreme oddness (the band, not the sea creature), their third collection ‘Octopus’, makes mush of that claim. The songs are tightened compared to the Mercury-nominated last album ‘Free The Bees’, meaning that, while they’re no longer as strange as they once were, they’re far more beautiful.
In the past, The Bees were a uniformly hippy tribe. ‘Octopus’ finds them no less bearded, but looking further for their underwater paradise, and, on doo-woppish single ‘Who Cares What The Question Is’, going straight after psych-era Beatles with a side-dollop of reggae for good measure. ‘Love In The Harbour’ marries mellow country rock to the same influences, while Latin-flecked ‘The Ocularist’ (a person who fits false eyes, fact fans) makes the seafaring motif even more overt – its refrain of how it’s “good to get back to the sea” is the very definition of lush escapism. Better still is samba-mariachi confection ‘Left Foot Stepdown’, and best of all is ‘Listening Man’ – an transportive slice of sun-tinged lover’s rock.
Bands like this can stumble from trying to do many things simultaneously. On ‘Octopus’ The Bees find their groove and sound blissfully unaware whether anyone else is listening. You should, they’ve made their best album yet.