With an Ozric Tentacles best of retrospective, I can honestly say that I’ve never felt more redundant as a reviewer. There can’t be many bands that can polarise opinion as much as the Ozrics are capable of.
Unless you are completely new to them, chances are you’ve already decided whether they are pioneers of space-rock and visionaries or just a bunch of hairy hippies with an unhealthy obsession with getting high and listening to Gong albums. Add to this the fact that there are only so many ways to describe a tune as cosmic, ethereal or hallucinatory before you just want to burn your thesaurus and you have a recipe for trouble.
But it’s a dirty job and apparently somebody has to do it so here goes. Formed two decades ago by Ed Wynne, the Ozric Tentacles quickly established themselves on the festival circuit in the eighties, where there none more prog noodlings became the favoured soundtrack to many a pharmaceutically inspired freak out. Building up a loyal fan-base with a series of cassette only albums, it was as a live act where the Ozrics truly came into their own, marathon sessions featuring endless guitar solos, cavernous drums and cosmic synthesisers.
Unashamedly ‘out there’, the Ozrics worked because they seemed to realise early on that the reason something becomes a cliché is because it works, and rather than shy away and seek credibility and respect from the world at large, they’d simply co-opt the most clichéd elements from whatever genre they wanted. Dub, techno, prog rock, world and new age music, all were assimilated into the Ozrics sound to produce a completely over the top, but nonetheless enjoyable experience.
With the rise in the early ’90s of the UK techno/rave scene and the subsequent interest in ambient and chilled out music, the Ozrics briefly flirted with credibility and the zeitgeist, scoring a number one in the indie chart with their only ever single Sploosh and then, in 1992, seeing the Jurassic Shift LP dent the top ten of the album chart.
It couldn’t last, for the tie-dye, the guitar solos, the song titles was just too much to bear for the majority of London’s music press. A new crop of sharp suited kids singing three minute rock songs about modern life were just around the corner, so the Ozrics were once more persona non grata.
Not that you’d think the band noticed. They were churning out 20 minute hymns to magic mushrooms when no one was interested, they were doing it whilst half the population of Britain under 30 were running around the country off their faces each weekend, and they are still doing it now their name is a byword for hippy filth in the press. And they’ll probably still be doing it in 10 or 20 years’ time – as long as there is a stage for them to play on and some saucer-eyed folk to sway along to the music then they’ll be happy.
As for this album, well, all their classics are here, the ones that go all spacey and wobbly, the ones that go all dubby and deep and the ones that just go on and on forever. Nostalgia for the lazy, hazy days in my youth slightly clouds my judgement and lets me smile at some of their worst excesses, but the reaction of my less than tolerant girlfriend shows that this isn’t a universal trait. So there we have it – you either love or hate them. Ozric Tentacles are truly the marmite of rock music.