Saturday, 15 February 2014

REVIEW: Ocean Colour Scene - 'Ocean Colour Scene' - Deluxe Edition (Universal Records)

When Birmingham mod-rock revivalists Ocean Colour Scene arrived into the charts in 1996, a lot of people were unaware that this band had actually been trying their luck for some time before the Britpop phenomenon opened up the doors for lots of great guitar bands. In fact they released their first album in 1992, four years before 'Moseley Shoals' saved them from obscurity. Now in 2014, the self titled 'Ocean Colour Scene' is getting the remastered deluxe edition treatment, and is released as a two CD set. Out of all the OCS albums, it's an odd one to re-release when you consider it originally peaked at number 55 in the charts and was subsequently disowned by the band. However, it's also the one that people are perhaps the least familiar with, and this re-release may create chances for new listeners to discover it for the first time. 

They formed in 1989 after Steve Cradock, Oscar Harrison and Damon Minchella met vocalist Simon Fowler at a Stone Roses gig. After the band released their 1990 debut single 'Sway' on the small independent Pfffft Records, the whole label was bought by Fontana, just so the company could get hold of this hotly tipped band who were earning plenty of attention from the music press with their exciting live performances. After attempting to record their first album with the legendary Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller, it has been said by some that the band "drank away the hours", while others claim that Miller's own alcohol problems were responsible for a disappointing set of recordings. After working with Steve Osbourne, and another attempt at getting it right with Hugo Nicholson, the results were delivered to their label. Fontana were unsatisfied, and sent the group back to the studio to re-record a number of tracks with Tim Palmer, who also remixed the entire record. The result is a confused, uneven and compromised thing that doesn't gel together as an album. It's the sound of a band trying to find their own direction within the early 90's baggy scene, which had faded by the time the record eventually saw the light of day in 1992. 


The opening 'Talk On''s instrumental first minute precedes soft New Order bass and light shoegaze vibes on one of the best tracks here, while the bright 'How About You' combines shades of The Byrds and The Stone Roses on a pleasant but lightweight number. The rhythms of 'Giving It All Away' suggest Happy Mondays while hints of psychedelica twist around the sunny, relaxed melody. The tender acoustic 'Justine' is heavily reminiscent of the band's later work and with its classy yet subtle strings, provides a touching highlight, while the slightly dated 'Do Yourself A Favour' turns an old Stevie Wonder tune into something not unlike The Charlatans minus the trademark organ. Despite some more alluring 6 string action from Steve Cradock, 'Third Shade Of Green''s tranquil mood is soon ruined by over the top production as the band attempt to stretch a small idea into an epic without much success. The vibrant bustle of 'Sway''s infectious indie-dance beats and tasty wah-wah licks combine with a simple, effective chorus hook to deliver the album's finest moment, a brilliant song which has "even better to come" written all over it. The tropical-flavoured 'Penny Pinching Rainy Days' is an enjoyable bit of Kinks-esque songwriting let down by some unsuitable production, while the influence of John Squire on Cradock's guitar playing is most evident on the charming 'One Of Those Days', a song with a very typical early 90's baggy/shoegaze sound. 

Beginning as a tearful lament to lost love, the initially downbeat 'Is She Coming Home' grows into a magnificent 'Champagne Supernova'-esque epic that climaxes with wailing guitars and fades on the same sort of delicate note that Noel Gallagher's classic did three years later. It would have made sense for it to close the album, instead we get 'Deep Blue Ocean', which is like a calmer, psychedelic relative of 'One Of These Days', and then the brief 'Reprise'. 


Because of too many people sticking their noses in, it's fair to say that nobody was completely satisfied with the end result but years later, a growing number of the group's fans began to regard the album as a flawed but underrated work. However when it was released in 1992, baggy had faded, they'd arrived late and it seemed that their time had passed. Luckily for OCS, it was all just a small prelude to the big success they would eventually enjoy a few years later. 

The second disc begins with the original unreleased single version of 'One Of Those Days', which seems to have been mastered from a slightly worn tape or vinyl copy. Despite this, it's probably superior to the album version since it features a brilliant extended solo from Cradock where he dives even deeper into Squire territory as Oscar Harrison delivers some fine rhythms. As well as a slightly different 'Talk On', there's the original (and again, better) 'Sway' which has a bit more groove to it. The brief, hazy slumber of b side 'Lullaby' pushes Fowler's vocals into the background before glorious reverb takes the sparse instrumentation to odd, beautiful places... It's an interesting glimpse into the direction OCS could have taken had things turned out differently. 'One Of These Days' is a funkified, mostly instrumental remix of 'One Of Those Days', and 'Yesterday Today' is a blunt and fairly unimaginative number done in the style of 'Elephant Stone'. It's derivative and basic, yet it makes you smile. 

'Another Girl's Name' is another pleasing hybrid of baggy beats and 60's guitar where Fowler's vocal occasionally dips into a conversational style, a very unexpected thing indeed. Damon Minchella's superb bass on 'Fly Me' isn't quite enough to rescue a rather dull Roses parody, but the whole band are at the top of their game on the Eastern-flavoured pulse of the 'Revolver'-esque 'No One Says', one of the band's hidden treasures and another surprise for those only familiar with the hits. The mysterious, somewhat funereal atmospheres of the sparse 'My Brother Sarah' and the delicate piano ballad 'Mona Lisa Eyes' are the heaviest hints at their future, the latter in particular well worth hearing. The enjoyable flute funk instrumental 'Bellechoux' kicks into an irresistible groove that highlights the solidity of the rhythm section, while the elegant, melancholy 'Flowers' is an acoustic highlight that would have made the main album stronger had it been included. In contrast, the wonderful ambient dub instrumental 'Don't Play' finds Harrison doing what he did when he was in a little known reggae group called Echo Base, while a range of soft analogue keys and pads almost bring to mind The Orb at times. Play it to someone and tell them to guess the band. They won't. 


As well as featuring some fantastic drum sounds, 'The Second Floor' is where the mod flavours begin to appear. Shame the song itself is a bit of a forgettable one. Mellow acoustic moods meet subtle shoegaze tones on the low key 'Patsy In Green', and completing CD 2's selection of b sides is the indie psychedelica of 'Suspended Motion', which aside from an odd combo of flute and violin, has a sound like much of the album. After these, alternative versions of 'Deep Blue Ocean' and 'Is She Coming Home' conclude this interesting and often surprising re-release.

After this self titled debut failed to sell back in 1992, everyone thought Ocean Colour Scene were finished. Now I'm sat here 22 years later listening to a deluxe edition of that same album. It's not a classic, but it is an LP that shines with the promise of great things to come. Enjoy it for what it is. 

7/10
(Deluxe Edition - 7.6/10)




No comments:

Post a Comment