A quarter of a century since their debut, the Welsh band’s double album pays homage to their past and provides for the future
Stereophonics’ 12th studio album Oochya! has, in effect, arrived ahead of schedule, being the polar opposite of virtually every other album coming out right now. A new album was not the initial intention when frontman Kelly Jones started delving through the archives and hard drives as he set out to put together some kind of anniversary compilation, a second ‘best of’ if you like, to follow 2008’s Decade In The Sun. The anniversary in question is that it’s 25 years since debut Word Gets Around arrived, although it could quite easily be a celebration of it also being 30 years since they were formed in the Welsh village of Cwmaman in 1992.
Such was the deemed quality of unreleased or part finished tracks Jones found at his fingertips, the idea of a new album soon took over the idea of a new compilation; but there wasn’t enough for an album alone, so Jones penned some new numbers too, and what we actually get is a double album. Whilst that may not set pulses racing – as the band’s albums have been rather inconsistent – it’s something of a pleasant surprise to discover that actually, Oochya! is better than might have been expected. Boasting 15 tracks, the album covers a lot of ground, with Jones claiming that it “shows a lot of styles of the band”. Seeing as the tracks have been collated from both present and past times, this isn’t surprising.
The quality of Stereophonics’ singles over the past 25 years is, by and large, enviable – which stands in contrast to perceptions of their album catalogue. Singles released prior to Oochya!, however, achieve varying results, all appearing at the front end of the album. Opening track Hanging On Your Hinges is also the lead single and it showcases the rockier side of the band; the trait of opening an album with one of the most raucous tracks is not an uncommon one for this band. It’s built upon a repetitive riff which is probably a little too repetitive, but it’s all over in less than three minutes anyway. Second single Do Ya Feel My Love? fares far better and is clearly a classic Stereophonics cut; this time the guitaring steps up a notch for some of most impressive axe work you’ll hear on any of their songs.
Standing some way ahead of the first two singles, though, is Forever. Whilst Do Ya Feel My Love? has the hallmarks of a classic Stereophonics song, Forever hits the nail squarely on the head as it tackles the subject of escapism. Surprisingly, Forever isn’t a new song at all – it was in fact the b-side to 2008’s You’re My Star, ironically a single to celebrate the release of Decade In The Sun. But Forever, in both its original form and its reworked form here, is far superior, which leaves you scratching your head as to why it was ever consigned to the b-side at all.
There are several average sounding tracks on Oochya! but very little you could class as filler, with perhaps the tongue in cheek closer Jack In A Box – about a fox that repeatedly did its business on Jones’ car – the only exception. Elsewhere there’s little to offend at all, as we see some excellent guitar soloing (Don’t Know What Ya Got), smoky Rod Stewart like cuts (Seen That Look Before, When You See It) and a minimalistic piano piece that may have sat better on a third Jones solo album (Every Dog Has Its Day), and that could also be said about the relaxed vibe conjured up by the autobiographical Right Place Right Time. There’s even an ode to AC/DC – a band they’ve admitted are an influence – on Running Round My Brain. It’s a pretty impressive effort.
But the biggest highlights on the latter part of the album come from three tracks all clumped together. Firstly, You’re My Soul sticks chord changes in all the right places for a predictable but excellent cut that benefits from outstanding guitar soloing towards its conclusion; then comes All I Have Us You, a dead ringer in structure (and almost name) for U2’s All I Want Is You, before the trio is completed by Made A Mess Of Me, where driving drums and a repetitive hook create a feel good factor tailor-made for springtime.
A second ‘best of’ would probably have been a better way to mark 25 years, 30 years or whatever, but Oochya! is in itself a celebration as Stereophonics banish the inconsistent album tag. Whilst it’s unlikely to have surpassed a compilation that would have boasted the likes of I Wanna Get Lost With You, Indian Summer, Graffiti On The Train and Mr And Mrs Smith to name but a few, Oochya! is undoubtedly one of Stereophonics’ better albums in recent times even if, at 15 tracks, it’s a little too long.