Together for 15 or so years now, Birmingham’s Ocean Colour Scene have all the ease of a group of mates down the pub. And the songs on this, their seventh studio album, sound like they were written for the pub circuit. Although this is perhaps what guarantees them a loyal fan base, it is also the reason why they’ve never managed to really take the scene by storm. Their upbeat songs are less anthemic and more wannabe sing-a-longs; their slow numbers are lyrically shambling teenage attempts at writing emotion. But after having listened to the album several times I can’t help mumbling along with the choruses of such songs as “Everything Comes at the Right Time” and “This Day Should Last Forever”.
The basic problem with A Hyperactive Workout for the Flying Squad is that it has a tendency to fuzz that fine line between inspiration and imitation. I’m not questioning the honesty of OCS, but at times you just want them to be themselves. OCS are a rock band with a mod background and they are good at being a rock band with a mod background (surely this is what attracted Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher to them). And though at times this filters through on this album, it doesn’t happen enough. This collection of songs is so diluted down by homage, that the final result is Sunday morning MOR.
The first single release and second track on the album, “Free My Love”, is the most ’60s sounding song, explaining perhaps why P.P. Arnold was drawn to it. And past the cheesy riff the melody does carry with it an echo of the Small Faces, the band Arnold collaborated with back in ’67/’68. But though the chorus gives us the line “free my name, just give me love”, the only sense of identity crisis we get is the one OCS seem to be going through. Has it got anything to do with bassist Damon Minchella’s departure? Maybe. The fact that he left to form the Players with Mick Talbot (ex-keyboardist with Style Council), Steve White (drummer with Paul Weller), and Aziz Ibrahim (ex-guitarist with Stone Roses), might be telling. One thing is for sure, though: it’s all rather incestuous as Paul Weller, along with Jools Holland, guest star on the number “Waving Not Drowning”. If the truth be told, OCS are doing neither.
What they are doing on “Wah Wah”, according to the press release, is paying their respects to late Beatle George Harrison. But apart from the guitar motif sounding stylistically closer to that on “Waterfall” by the Stone Roses, it is difficult to see if they are paying their dues or simply doing a karaoke cover version of the song originally written by Harrison (apparently after he had temporarily quit the Beatles following a row with Paul McCartney). “Drive Away”, we are told, bears “remarkable similarities to U2’s classic ‘One Love'”, and indeed the kinetic guitar playing is definitely Edge-esque, but lacks the distinctiveness of its Irish predecessor. A slightly better track is “I Love You”, Simon Fowler’s supposed combined homage to Roy Orbison and Velvet Underground. But Fowler is too close to imitating Orbison’s vocals and when it comes to reverence towards the Velvet Underground, OCS seem to focus primarily on, yes you’ve guessed it, the tambourine.
OCS need to go back and stay true to their own style. Though an enjoyable throwaway tune, “This Day Should Last Forever” could be the Waterboys or the Levellers. And as for the syrupy slow rock jazz of “Move Things Over”, well, I think even Sade would be slightly embarrassed. “Start of the Day” boasts the deep maxim “as the start of the day is the end of the night, so the end of the night is the start of the day” — to be fair, I realise that they’re trying to be rousing and I did just catch myself singing along. But as for the final track “My Time”, are OCS really trying to sound like Huey Lewis and the News? Surely not.
The opening song “Everything Comes at the Right Time” and “God’s Word” may not be amazing, but at least they are closer to the OCS that gets us playing air guitar (or air drums if you’re my girlfriend). The rest of the record needs to decide if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or whether inspired allusions would show how the students are trying respectfully to detach themselves from their masters. Moseley Shoals this aint.