Formed from the remnants of two other local bands, The Boys and Fanatics, Ocean Colour Scene came into being with the excellent single “Sway”, still a revered and collectable cult item. Events rather overtook them when they made their debut disc, Ocean Colour Scene, for Phonogram as the thrill of moving from independence to a major deal was offset by an ill-judged decision to remix them to fit in with the baggy movement. They weren’t that and were so dispirited that they disbanded for a while. But not for long since salvation arrived via The Modfather himself – Paul Weller invited them to support a 1993 tour and Cradock’s further liaisons with Weller enabled him to funnel his earnings back into the band just as vocalist Simon Fowler did his reputation no harm by appearing on Weller’s acclaimed album, Wild Wood in the same year.
With new demos causing a stir, Noel Gallagher called them up for Oasis 1995 tour. Clawing in followers from both their superstar patrons Ocean Colour Scene released the acknowledged classic Moseley Shoals (a play on the Southern US Muscle Shoals) in 1996 with Weller’s man Brendan Lynch behind the faders. Here their affiliation with the fringes of Britpop actually paid dividends. Moseley Shoals has so far sold over a million copies.
It is packed with OCS standards – “The Riverboat Song”, “The Day We Caught the Train” and “The Circle” all exhibit a particularly British strand of pastoral, albeit with a crunchy centre. Look out now for the 2014 Deluxe Edition: remastered and with the odd demo and fine B-sides, plus other unreleased material this is a fine entry into their world.
Marchin’ Already confirmed their arrival as a major force with more original classics in the shape of “Hundred Mile High City”, “Better Day”, “Traveller’s Tune” and “It’s a Beautiful Thing” – the latter pair featuring P.P. Arnold and exuding a heady whiff of Northern Soul. Again we’d point you to their Deluxe and even Super Deluxe editions where their prolific but high quality output can be heard spread across 3-CDs/DVD in the latter case, including live sets at Manchester Apollo and Stirling Castle.
Fowler, Cradock, drummer Oscar Harrison and the ever excellent bassist Damon Minchella were now a tight-knit gang who generally steered clear of media exposure in order to concentrate on the matter at hand. Deadly serious they created the darker and often-bleak One from the Modern (1999), a recording that split opinion but that actually sounds better with time. The anti-war tune “Profit in Peace” marks a departure in their lyrical outlook and “So Low” is a no-holds barred examination of depression.
Mechanical Wonder saw OCS part company with Lynch and employ producer Martin Heyes who brings out crackling performances on the rustic hymn that provides the title track and the snippier “Up on the Downside”.
They stay with us for the highly politically charged North Atlantic Drift, an examination of US and UK foreign policy – not necessarily what the public was after but supreme evidence in the band’s case for maintaining an independent streak. Elements of folk also surface here in the rack “She’s Been Writing”, a dedication to the late, great Sandy Denny, one of Fowler’s heroines. Other gems include “I Just Need Myself” and “Golden Gate Bridge”, fine outings for the band’s prowess and Cradock’s guitar playing in particular.
On the quirkily titled A Hyperactive Workout for the Flying Squad OCS were forced to replace Minchella and the other three came up with the goods, aside from covering George Harrison’s "Wah Wah”(from his All Things Must Pass masterpiece) and Keith Anderson’s “My Time”. Another strong disc, this contains “Free My Name”, which restored them to the charts while the production skills of Dave Eringa (Manic Street Preachers, Idlewild, Kylie Minogue) kept them honest and fresh.
Since then Ocean Colour Scene have returned to independent releases, all laudable, but we have several terrific collections and anthologies. B-Sides, Seasides and Freerides (1997) is a mellow, acoustic thing in places and offers a sterling summary of the Moseley Shoals flip sides. Songs for the Front Row (2001) cherry-picks the years 1996-2001 and is an ideal primer for newcomers.
The 3-CD, 50-track album Anthology (2003) includes their cover of The Who’s “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” and Neil Young’s “On the Way Home” – two items that offer an insight into the depth of their influences.
One For The Road collates various live performances from 2004 with two new songs and a loving impetration of The Small Faces “Wham Bam Thank You Mam”.
Of particular interest is The BBC Sessions (2007) that Cradock describes here: "We recorded so many sessions over the last 10 years for the BBC, it's great to pull out the old stuff and hear it again. The BBC has a built a fantastic archive over the years and to be part of the drive to make it all available to download is pretty mad. We're really chuffed."
Finally we have The Collection (2007) a canny mixture of old and new, live and studio with a highlight being their live take on “Day Tripper:” from the Electric Ballroom.
Ocean Colour Scene are survivors as well as musical experts and they’ve become part of the classic rock fabric whilst continuing to investigate new sounds. Now is the perfect time to rediscover these Moseley marvels.
Words: Max Bell
By the time Ocean Colour Scene released their debut album in 1992, they were already considered has-beens. The band had formed during the height of Madchester, but they never released their first album until the scene was already dead, which left them without a following. But between their debut and their second album, 1996's Moseley Shoals, a strange thing happened -- the band was taken under the wings of two of Britain's biggest pop stars, Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher. The band suddenly catapulted back into the spotlight because of its superstar connections, but the music actually deserved the attention. Ocean Colour Scene had spent the time between their two albums improving their sound. On Moseley Shoals, they are looser, funkier, and have a strong, organic R&B vibe that was inherited from the Small Faces and Weller's solo recordings. They sprinkle Beatlesque and Stonesy flourishes throughout the album, as well as the odd prog rock flair, adding an even more eclectic flavor to their traditionalist pop/rock. Ocean Colour Scene are still developing their songwriting skills -- the sound is more impressive than the songs throughout Moseley Shoals -- but their second album is an unexpectedly enjoyable record.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Ocean Colour Scene reinvented themselves as trad rock journeymen with their second album, Moseley Shoals, a record indebted to late-'60s blues-rock, mod pop, psychedelia, and prog rock. Surprisingly, the album became a blockbuster in the U.K., so it isn't entirely surprising that its successor, Marchin' Already, is essentially Moseley Shoals, Pt. 2 with a bigger budget. Despite a few production flourishes -- heavily panned, distorted psychedelic guitars, trombone solos, and two P.P. Arnold backing vocals -- Ocean Colour Scene doesn't sound at all different on Marchin' Already, and their songwriting shows no noticeable improvement. But the album isn't a retreat; it's a continuation of everything that made Moseley Shoals such an entertaining record, and it's nearly as good as its predecessor. Marchin' Already is equally balanced between soulful stompers ("Travellers Tune"), rockers ("Hundred Mile High City"), and prog-inflected ballads ("Better Day," "Besides Yourself"), all delivered with almost too much passion. But the key to Ocean Colour Scene is that they are fervently committed to trad rock, which means they pour themselves into predictable songs that turn out to be quite satisfying, even if they are guilty pleasures. And if that's the case, Marchin' Already is a great guilty pleasure.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
A classic case of a band searching for an identity on its debut album, Ocean Colour Scene couldn't decide whether it wanted to be Madchester rave-up, shoegaze drift, or the kind of proto-soul/R&B revivalist outfit that would eventually determine the group's future (and fairly dull) career. In ways, though, the debut could easily be the best overall thing the band recorded, showing more of a sense of genre experimentation than it did in later life, able to cover the bases from the sweet zone-out of the opening "Talk On" to the Stevie Wonder cover "Do Yourself a Favor," given a sturdy if not particularly noteworthy remake. The secret highlight of the album is possibly "Justine," a stripped-down, hushed acoustic guitar/cello ballad; if it's not Nick Drake or John Martyn, say, there's something about the low-key atmosphere, Fowler's calm vocals detailing a strange, domineering figure with her "pretty girls chained inside the dungeon." Other songs like "Third Shade of Green" and the shimmering chime and groove of "Blue Deep Ocean" suggest that if Ocean Colour Scene had aimed at developing more of its brand of psychedelic English soul, the band might have really had something. On much of the album, Fowler's fairly thin semi-whine is his undoing -- if less strident than the years of his Brit-pop dominance, when it's not working it's fairly painful, but that's not a constant situation since he seems to be assaying a varying number of approaches throughout the album. Sometimes he's trying to be the young Joe Cocker or Rod Stewart -- or more appropriately, the new Paul Weller -- a little too hard, raising unenviable comparisons, but the easier delivery on the semi-tropical funk of "Penny Pinching Rainy Heaven Days" shows that he could relax when needed.
Words: Ned Raggett
This album, in my opinion is greater than the sum of any of it's parts. It has it's flaws, some of the recording, the levels and the mastering is a little off. Perhaps there are some lesser tracks. There are flaws. But it doesn't matter. The songs are great and that's what counts. Profit in Peace and So Low open up the able and set the mood. These are instant classics. The middle of the album is made up of rock, folk and soul, with great musicianship thrown in. The last song, "I won't get grazed", is a haunting tune to finish the album. If left on repeat it also becomes the perfect intro back into track 1. When I listen to this I feel that it was perhaps not the easiest album to record, an album created from a 'third album' struggle, which gives it a unique sound and place in Ocean Colour Scene's discography.
Words: David Bowers
It's sort of fitting that the first album Ocean Colour Scene released in the U.S. since their breakthrough and masterpiece Moseley Shoals was 2001's Mechanical Wonder, their weakest since Moseley Shoals. It's not that the record is a failure, since it hardly is. It's just -- kind of predictable, really, offering no new spin or variation on OCS's patented blend of mod, early Humble Pie and latter-day Paul Weller. That's not entirely a bad thing, since Ocean Colour Scene does this sound not just better than their peers (admittedly, in 2001, there weren't that many bands attempting this sound anymore; it's a long way from 1996), but holds its own with the bands they pattern themselves after. The problem is that the songwriting has gotten a little mannered, a little undistinguished, and the performances, while sturdy, tend to be slightly flat. This wouldn't be notable if everything on the record was at the same level, since it would then seem to be just a solid, mildly satisfying album by a sturdy group. It's that the band can still hit it out of the ballpark, no more notably than on the opener "Up on the Downside," a swirling, sexy song that is easily one of their greatest songs. There are other moments that click -- the rampaging "Can't Get Back to the Baseline" or the mildly insistent shuffle of "Give Me a Letter" -- but the first song is so good, it overshadows the rest of the record, which is simply good, average OSC. But, One From the Modern explored more territory with better songwriting, and that disappointment is compounded by that lone great single "Up on the Downside," which illustrates that they can still deliver songs as enthralling as "One Hundred Mile City."
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
This is effectively the second acoustic album from Ocean Colour Scene, with Simon and Oscar's Live on the Riverboat first and, to be honest, better for those who aren't die-hard fans. This record is acoustic (for the most park) and shows the way for OCS's move towards their Folkier influences. It is without a number of their greatest hits, and although that may disappoint some, it gives the album a purpose. My favourite's on the record are probably the first two tracks, along with the eternally brilliant Foxy's Folk Face. At the same time, I'm pleased the album includes the lovely Matilda's England and God's World, which show a side of the band that I'm not sure anyone would have expected in the early days. This is one for the collection for fans, and like all Ocean Colour Scene recordings it is thoroughly, thoroughly nice on the ear.
Words: Robbie Swale
Part of the problem of being a traditionalist band is that you emerge with a sound that sounds fairly mature from the outset -- by emulating classic bands at their peak, you wind up sounding older than your years and, no matter how hard you fight it, a little bit stodgy. Then, because you hold the classic rock tradition so dear, you wind up becoming bound to it, rarely exploring new territory and, even then, it's usually just new tonal, textural, and emotional ground, which is so subtle that only dedicated fans will notice -- which, of course, is the only kind of fan that will pay attention through several similar-sounding records. This fate has befallen many bands, both British and American, many lesser than Ocean Colour Scene, who at least were fortunate enough to ride the post-Oasis zeitgeist in the mid-'90s, which meant they not only had some hits, but that they could cultivate a reasonably large fan base and that the best of their songs -- "The Riverboat Song," "The Day We Caught the Train," "Hundred Mile High City," "Travellers Tune" -- became part of the pop culture of the time. Once that time passed and "Noelrock" became passé, OCS still trudged on, delivering journeymen-like records to a steadily decreasing audience (admittedly, they were hurt by a record deal that kept their records from regular release in the U.S.). By the point they released their sixth studio album, North Atlantic Drift, in late summer 2003, it seemed like only the faithful would care, which is too bad, because it's the best record they've done in a long time. Like any trad rock band, there isn't a great progression in the sound -- it sounds like it could have been the sequel to Marchin' Already, or even Moseley Shoals -- but the production isn't nearly as claustrophobic as it was on its predecessor, 2001's Mechanical Wonder, nor are the performances as mannered. Here, the tone is brighter and the sound is subtly, appealingly layered, while the band displays not only a willingness to stretch out (the extended coda on the closer, "When Evil Comes," is suitably atmospheric), but a renewed vigor in songwriting. Once again, the best of their songs -- and there are a lot of good songs on this record -- are sharp, impassioned, tuneful, and sturdy, gaining resonance after each play. To complain that they offer little new to the OCS sound is to miss the point: They're supposed to fit within the sound, and they not only do that, but they hold their own against the best of the band's material. Since the group seemed to be slipping into pleasant genericness with Mechanical Wonder, this revival is to be embraced, since it means that once again Ocean Colour Scene embodies all the virtues of trad rock, making a very enjoyable album in the process. [Sanctuary's 2003 U.S. edition of North Atlantic Drift contains four bonus tracks, all of a similar high standard, with the standout track being the spare, rollicking "I Want to See the Bright Lights."]
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Workingman bands can't get nowhere in the new millennium -- but that doesn't mean that they're needed any less. Ocean Colour Scene make the most of being among the last of a dying breed by ignoring their impending extinction, carrying on with the same moddish rock-n-soul that's been their trademark since abandoning swirling Madchester beats for Motown/Tamla bounce on Moseley Shoals. On the Leyline stands apart from other British retro-rockers -- and indeed other OCS releases -- by being lean and muscular, with the songs lasting no longer than necessary and the performances showing some sinew and swing. There are no new wrinkles -- a previously unrecorded Paul Weller song can't be called unexpected -- but On the Leyline is solid and satisfying, the way a record by a working band should be.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Perhaps there's a bit of a sly nod to art rock in the title and album cover of Painting, the tenth Ocean Colour Scene album, but the contents that lie within are without a hint of pretension, favoring the florid trad rock that's been their stock in trade since Moseley Shoals. OCS add some new color by tipping a hat to their baggy beginnings on "If God Made Everyone" -- a dense, percolating cut featuring their heaviest dance rhythms in recent memory -- lathering on backwards strings and guitars on "Professor Perplexity," and opening the album with the chattering of school children on "We Don't Look in the Mirror." Also, echoes from Simon Fowler's pastoral solo project can be heard, particularly on the baroque psychedelia of "I Don't Want to Leave England," and these sounds accentuate how OCS have added textures to their Weller-worshiping rock & roll over the years. They continue to mine interesting sounds out of this vein -- no other band has mimicked Traffic so expertly -- but the sounds and structures, not the songs, are what's memorable about Painting. Ocean Colour Scene are agile within the confines of their wheelhouse so it's enjoyable to hear them play and construct records, even if they rarely give you a reason for a return visit.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine