It may have taken them over 20 years, but Ocean Colour Scene have now reached double figures in studio albums with Painting – no mean achievement for a band whose heyday was at the height of Britpop back in the mid-’90s. Unlike their contemporaries Dodgy and Suede (releasing comeback albums last year and next month, respectively), OCS have never split up, plugging away all these years with only minor line-up changes.
Though their determinedly retro ’60s sound was never going to win plaudits for originality, the Brummies’ classic 1996 album Moseley Shoals and its excellent follow-up Marchin’ Already saw them riding high. But since then, despite each successive album having had its moments, it’s been gradually diminishing returns both in terms of sales and creativity, though they still have a loyal fan-base. Painting does not reverse this long-term decline, even if it’s a perfectly pleasant album to listen to.
Singer Simon Fowler’s folksy side project Merrymouth and guitarist Steve Cradock’s psychedelic solo efforts seem to have had an impact on this tenth OCS album. Now well into their forties, mellowing age has played a part too, as shown in the opening track We Don’t Look In The Mirror. The song’s elegiac quality – “Guess the face that’s looking back / Is looking rather cracked” – is counterpointed by the sound of children chattering, with its late sixties-ish mellotron melody ending in dissonant disarray. However, the catchy title track and first single is much more upbeat in both tempo and mood.
The most interesting track on the album, If God Made Everyone, starts slowly with gentle acoustic guitars, but the laid-back ambience is shattered by squealing electric guitar and a pumped-up beat, reflecting the subject-matter of young people’s lives being destroyed by the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik: “Who in the hell made you?” Yet in complete contrast is the easy-listening, Burt Bacharach-influenced Weekend, with its sweet dulcimer accompaniment.
The fuzzy descending guitar chords of Professor Perplexity fragment into an otherworldly self-indulgence that fails to convince us it’s a long-lost song by Traffic. Begun. While I Don’t Want To Leave England has a Kinks-like downbeat patriotism, the darkly ironically titled The Winning Side expresses a father’s grief for his dead son lost in the war with melodic pathos: “That was my boy on the front page / He’s off yesterday’s news.”
With its slowly building momentum and big chorus The New Torch Song attempts to tap into the euphoria from last summer’s London Olympics – “All around the games / We could see the sun” – but feels like a failed anthem. The album closes with Here Comes The Dawning Day, a muted, intimate love song featuring Bert Jansch-style finger-picking guitar.
Throughout, Fowler sings with accustomed full-throated assurance, with Cradock contributing as much on keyboards as in his restrained guitar playing (he seems to rock out more when he’s played with Paul Weller in recent years). As a whole, Painting is not a bad effort, with some nice tunes, though it’s all a bit dull and predictable: good brushwork but lacking inspiration.