It’s a fact… some British bands just never break big in America, despite what may be considerable chart success in their home country (and/or the rest of Europe). In many British circles, the Manic Street Preachers are near musical royalty, but over here they just aren’t widely known, in spite of years of successful releases and charting singles in the UK. Fans of a band may find this criminal, but others may still find it a blessing. There’s sometimes nothing worse for a band than monumental mainstream success (ahem, U2).
Another band that’s even lesser known in the States is Birmingham’s Ocean Colour Scene. Sure, many music fans may know the name, but ask if they can name a single song or album, and you may be met with confused bufuddlement. All the meanwhile, though, OCS have put out consistently engaging releases to considerable acclaim at home. They’ve been one of the few bands to survive the halcyon Britpop era relatively intact, and were able to shift their style sufficiently to keep up with the musical progression of the times. And they continue their journey steadily forward on their latest, Saturday, a bluesy party-jam of an album that’s one of their best in years.
“100 Floors of Perception” opens with subtle horns and woodblock percussion before opening into a Who’s Next sort of throwback, the kind of sound that’s rarely explored by willing bands both British and otherwise these days. This is the song that sets the tone for much of the remaining runtime of the album; overall it’s a feel-good sort of set, though theres also several artistic curveballs.
“Mrs. Maylie” is full of the kind of blues licks and all-out country-rock that Wilco damn near perfected on Being There years ago, but halfway through the song downshifts into a polite
little British jig before picking back up again. Title track “Saturday” reaches for anthem status with cries of “I don’t go for that, my name is Saturday!”, while “The Word” is vintage Moody Blues (or early Pink Floyd) in its gentle acoustic strumming and fairy tale melodies. And OCS save the best for last, as closer “Rockfield” is the most rewarding track of all, evoking Alien Lanes-era Guided By Voices before morphing into another Who-homage barn burner.
To say this album is retro in nature is a bit of an understatement. From the aforementioned Who, GBV and early Pink Floyd influences, there’s also hints of the Animals, the Zombies and other Invasion-era touchstones. What OCS have always been great at, and indeed better than many of their peers in this regard, is distilling those influences into a still-recognizable, but utterly unique new form. This disc is no exception. Despite all the genre shout-outs and cribbed Invasion touches, this is still an OCS album through and through, and could be mistaken for no one else’s creation.
It’s worth noting that Saturday is one of the more aptly-named albums to surface in recent years. The whole disc carries a pleasant vibe of weekend campfires and Saturday-night keggers in suburban basements, an innocent time of loose-limbed dancing and drunken revelry for which this disc would make the most perfect of soundtracks. After this many years of solid recorded output, it’s great to see a band like Ocean Colour Scene are still having such fun with their material, and willing to redefine the lines of what makes their sound theirs. While they may never break through in the American mainstream (that ship has probably long since sailed), it is — in an artistic sense — a much greater victory that they’re still enjoying themselves, putting out some of the best music of their career, this late into the game. Chart-topping American singles are overrated, as we’re certainly no judge over here of deserving talent meeting up with respective success (see: Nickelback, nu-metal, Jack Johnson, et. al). Judging by the sound of things, Ocean Colour Scene simply don’t care, and that’s one of their greatest attributes, and what makes discs like Saturday such an unqualified, unadulterated thrill.