The return of Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Cradock might not be a big news story for those following new trends in pop music. It will, however, prick the curiosity of anybody cutting their musical cloth around the time of Britpop.
The mid-’90s is a period in music currently undergoing a rigorous reappraisal, though its ‘stars’ now stand on the approach to middle age – something not escaping the guitarist-turned-vocalist.
“I can definitely tell that I’m approaching 40,” he says. If not for this concession, there would have been just one word that gave him away. Only a man approaching that age could perhaps use the word ‘courting’ as Steve Cradock does, without a trace of irony, when he refers to a time 13 or 14 years ago when his wife painted the portrait that would inspire his much anticipated debut solo album The Kundalini Target.
Kundalini – for the unenlightened among you – refers to a kind of unconscious corporeal energy, often envisioned as a sleeping serpent coiled at the base of the spine, ready to slither through your chakras and bring you to enlightenment – a concept he explains with wide-eyed enthusiasm. If that all sounds a bit too new-age for your liking, then you probably won’t be giving the album a spin, but you’d be missing out on what is, by all accounts, a beautiful record.
And there are already plenty of accounts. The Kundalini Target is the first solo venture out of Ocean Colour Scene and, coming from Paul Weller‘s long-time guitarist Cradock, The Kundalini Target has been eagerly awaited by both friends and fans. Liam Gallagher has observed that “It’s a modern-day George Harrison – All Things Must Pass”, a lofty claim to live up to if ever there was one. Cradock is not fazed by it. “I don’t really feel any pressure to live up to that. I’m just pleased that people like it, you know. I’m really proud of it.” There are certain similarities, with definite hints at whimsical ’60s psychedelia, and more than a touch of Beatles-esque innocence in The Apple’s chorus of “love, love, love”.
Speaking with the man responsible for co-writing some of the most definitive songs of the Britpop movement – Riverboat Song and The Day We Caught The Train to name just two – it would be tempting to equate these to his latest offering. The two, however, are poles apart. As Cradock readily admits, this is a far more personal and mature collection of songs that anything he’s ever penned before, and in style, it is definitely more akin to Weller than OCS.
When probed, however, he remains enigmatic, reluctant to attribute the record’s direction to any single influence. “I think you get inspired by everything around you if you’re a musician, you know” is all he decides to offer.
Weller, like so many of Cradock’s contemporaries, has fawned over the album, praising it as a collection of “great songs of humanity, family values, and family love,” and this is clearly where Cradock sought much of his inspiration. In fact the album’s second track The Apple was written specifically for his two children. “I wanted to write a song for them, but one that wouldn’t be too saccharine,” he explains. And with the exception of one badly advised line (something indecipherable about them floating like butterflies, and the magic of their souls), he appears to have achieved this aim, with a song that is a touching profession of fatherly devotion, made all the more affecting by his wife Sally’s backing vocals.
This is not deliberate, he claims – just the inevitable result of a family life where “We just sort of sit around at home, singing and playing.” He laughs. “I know, it sounds a bit like the fucking Von Trapp family!”
Although a year and a half in the writing, Cradock recorded The Kundalini Target in just six days, at Weller‘s Black Barn studio in Sussex – and with the exception of Sally’s backing and an acoustic cameo from Weller on You Paint Your Picture, Cradock plays every instrument on the record. He also produced it himself – but he shrugs off his own contribution with endearing modesty, saying, “I suppose so. I don’t think it sounds produced really, it sounds just quite natural.”
The record certainly has a very organic feel to it, and the minimalism of the production allows the strength of Cradock’s song-writing to shine through – along with a voice to match, that will be a pleasant surprise to most. Though he never quite strays from his safety zone, it has a hypnotic, soothing quality to it, not unlike the lulling tones of David Gilmour.
Altogether, The Kundalini Target is a solid collection of upbeat and beautifully written songs that will doubtless appease an older generation music aficionados, including Cradock’s contemporaries, though, as what is essentially an easy-listening album, to use that loathsome term, it is unlikely to launch him a solo career to rival his bands’. Not that he is bothered – he certainly has no plans to abandon his other projects for a solo career, anticipating a particularly busy year for Ocean Colour Scene, due to release their sixth studio album in May.
Cradock has already ventured that this is the first, and possibly the last album he will make on his own. “I think that, at the moment, but it’s hard to say. You can’t really narrow down the future, can you?” Wherever he chooses to lead it though, the one thing that seems certain is that for a man approaching forty, Cradock still has a very bright future ahead of him indeed.