Moseley Shoals, 1996
Ocean Colour Scene don’t get the acclaim they deserve. They were up there with the best of the Nineties, and Moseley Shoals was a definitive album from that decade. Yet they are rarely mentioned as one of the big five; Stephen Cradock is nowhere to be found on the cover of I Was Britpopped, or on the posters for Star Shaped. Like cheetahs on a safari, they must stare at their exalted rivals and wonder: what did we do wrong?
Well, there’s the name for a start. Three words? A bit greedy, lads. You can write BlurOasisSuedePulp with the same number of characters (if we include the spaces). And to be truly Britpop, they needed to make it big a little earlier than 1996 (their eponymous 1992 debut failing to make much of a mark, despite its qualities).
But I can’t help thinking they lost a bit of muso credibility due to some of the company they kept. Their most recognisable tune, ‘The Riverboat Song’ holds a strong claim to having the best riff of the decade; it’s certainly the most distinctive. But its use on TFI Friday meant it swiftly became too familiar – and too easily associated with Chris Evans, rather than them.
Having harnessed the Britpop beast for his own nefarious purposes, Evans set about casting his eye across the landscape, a Ginger Sauron looking for the next band to force to do his bidding. What said bands may have gained in PRS cheques, they lost in respect and affection among hardcore music fans (as opposed to the pissed-up buffoons that audienced his shows). And whatever he might think, Chris Evans was never, ever cool. He tried too hard and wanted it too much for that cap to fit.
See also Guy Ritchie. There is little doubt that ‘Hundred Mile High City’ is the perfect kick-off music for a fast-paced action film. But the question is which film. ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ is a fine, if flawed, film; ‘Snatch’ too. But from those high points onwards, Ritchie has sent a procession of turds floating down the Thames to his make-believe capital of comedy gangsters and laboured rhyming slang. When hearing the frantic excitement of that track’s intro, I don’t think of Ocean Colour Scene so much as fighting gypsies and fat Greek fixers and poker games; of Mockney accents so thick even Damon would steer clear; of Vinnie Jones displaying the nuanced versatility of a brick. And still outperforming Sting.
But like many a young lad who got in with the wrong crowd, OCS had a softer, more sensitive side. And it’s here that much of their finest work can be found. The song title I borrowed for my book is the most famous of these gentler tracks, but delve into the albums and there are plenty more to enjoy. ‘Lining Your Pockets’ and ‘The Downstream’ stand out on Moseley Shoals, while ‘Big Star’ on Marchin’ Already is a touching, haunting tune, something a hundred miles away from the thrash of their noisy opener.
It’s more than possible that they couldn’t care less, of course. They have fame, massive global sales, a devoted following, and no doubt a steady stream of royalties, plus they continue to tour twenty years on to exuberant sell-out crowds. I doubt very much if Chris Evans or Guy Ritchie worry that much what I think about them either. Neither seems to be doing too badly.
But a legacy is important if you’re an artist. At what point does Robert de Niro’s shocking performances outnumber his Oscar-winning roles? Has Irvine Welsh now fully undermined the genius of Trainspotting, stretching his heroin addicts beyond their natural breaking point?
It can cost us consumers as well, if we’re too quick to judge. Those who reject UB40 as a dismal cod reggae outfit doing karaoke Neil Diamond covers (i.e. most people) will never get to hear the brilliance of their debut album, Signing Off. And non-Britpop-loving types who dismiss Ocean Colour Scene as just another all-male guitar-led rock band are missing out as well. With touches of blues and rock, soul and thunder, they were – are – so much more than that.
Top three OCS tracks: