Guster has been one of the most consistently listenable bands of the past 15 years, and never more so than on 2010’s Easy Wonderful. That album was catchy and cohesive, reinventing the acoustic trio as a pop/rock band with serious chops. On the Ocean EP is billed as a collection of b-sides and alternate mixes from Easy Wonderful, but in tying itself to the soaring LP this EP just sinks.
In fact, Easy Wonderful already had several excellent deluxe edition and iTunes exclusive b-sides. The fact that the two new tracks here couldn’t make those cuts says something. “Big White Bed” has a dated “Blueberry Hill” vibe and the defining characteristic of “Every Moment” is that the vocals are switched up an octave, making it sound like that one throwaway Eagles songs from the late ‘70s where Timothy B. Schmit inexplicably stole the mic from Don Henley.
The live cuts (“Satellite” and “That’s No Way to Get to Heaven”) showcase Guster as a strong touring act, but at this point that’s like Keith Richards showcasing his ability to smoke cigarettes while playing guitar. It’s been one of Guster’s hallmarks all along, and there’s already a live album, 2004’s Guster on Ice, to fill that need. I wouldn’t even mention the radio edit of “On the Ocean” if it weren’t the title track because it too is nothing new—just the album version minus half a bridge—and seems less like an alternate mix and more of a guarantee that this EP crests the 20-minute mark.
Only the remix of “This Is How It Feels to Have a Broken Heart” stands out due to lead singer Ryan Miller’s liberal sprinkle of Latin keyboard riffs and turntable cuts under the moniker DJ Mitchell Spinach. The remix breathes new life into the song, which is what the other tracks here are missing. Guster’s discography features many hits with surprisingly few misses. Unfortunately, On the Ocean EP belongs in the latter category.
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