Ocean Colour Scene – Moseley Shoals (1996)

Lost and Found is the first in a regular column by Glide’s Chris Calarco that examines a prior release you most likely haven’t heard….

Ocean Colour Scene
is kind of a big deal in England. While five top ten albums and six top ten singles across the pond have made them a household name, after forming in Birmingham in 1989, the Brit-pop band never made noise in America and thus their musical high point, 1996’s Moseley Shoals, has gone relatively unheard in the states. Let’s remedy that. While an album that has sold over a million copies can hardly be thought of as a lost treasure, for most in America, Ocean Colour Scene will bring blank stares. 

After hearing a demo, Oasis’ Noel Gallagher invited the band to support his tour.  With this recognition, major labels came calling and Moseley Shoals was released to critical acclaim from the famously hypercritical Brit press. The name of the album, of course, is a play on Muscle Shoals, the legendary Alabama town that housed a recording studio which began in 1969 and produced epic soul and rock music. Moseley is the name of a Birmingham suburb where three of the group’s original members were born.  This title plays warmly with the music inside, a combination of a little 90s brit-pop, big hearted classic rock, and blue eyed soul.

Immediately kicking things into high gear with “The Riverboat Song’s" Zeppelin-esque guitar and bass interplay, the band arrives with intention and a soulful force.  This music is not a match for Oasis’s bombast or even Blur’s punchy, quirk-pop. However, Moseley Shoals shines with a refined, timeless sound; a deep, melodic accessibility with songs arranged naturally and played with passion. Lyrics are earthy yet poetic, elegant and stylishly grounded. The most alluring element of all may be the understatement with which the band is able to play. Dripping with emotion, staying rooted in traditional song arrangements, they creatively play with melody and make Moseley Shoals a revelation for those of us struggling to remember what exemplary melodic rock sounds like.  A song like “Lining Your Pockets” is one of a few slow burners on Shoals that captivates with a Rod Stewart-era Faces feel. “The Day we Caught the Train” is stylized like Revolver-era Beatles with a gorgeous chorus.  It’s no wonder the song reached number 4 on British charts, a place where the appreciation for well played pop rock has never wavered. “One for the Road” is the best Bob Seger ballad he never played.  In the vein of “Night Moves”, this one focuses on natural production, loose yet crisp playing, and gorgeous vocals from Simon Fowler. 

“40 Past Midnight” possesses the most obvious overture to Moseley Shoals with bar room piano and agile guitar stabs from Steve Cradock that hook and dive.  There is an organic liveliness to the song and all of Moseley Shoals that allows the music to shine and flow naturally, as if it was recorded live and in one take. The album is blessed by iconic Brit Paul Weller’s (The Jam, The Style Council) presence on organ, piano, and backing vocals for three songs.  With Weller and Gallagher’s stamp of approval Moseley Shoals was afforded an instant loudspeaker to all of Britain.  “Policeman and Pirates” is a quintessential example of OCS’s ability to create gorgeous blue-eyed soul melodies inside classic rock structures.  There is a sweet affection to the song, one that can only come from a labor of love. "You’ve Got it Bad” uses a filtered synth sound for texture, allowing it to play off and with punchy piano runs and a kinetically understated guitar solo. Coupled with Beatles-esque melodies, the band keeps finding gold in every song.

The album finishes with “Get Away”, the longest song on the album at almost eight minutes. Beginning with harmonica and acoustic guitar for two verses and then voraciously jumping into wah guitar and angry vocals, the band turns up the heat.  Cradock plays a liquid solo, and the song slows to a crawl again. These organic twists and turns make Moseley Shoals feel warm and welcoming, like the product of a real band full of heart. Soon the song turns into a rambunctious exploration of vibrant drums and refined yet ragged guitar noise.  Moseley Shoals breathes to a close with guitar feedback fading.

Albeit with some lineup changes, Ocean Colour Scene remains a stalwart in the British music scene.  Celebrating their 21st anniversary with a 4 CD box set and recently releasing a deluxe edition of Moseley Shoals, the band has embarked on an extensive tour playing the nationally famous album in its entirety.  Perhaps the album’s greatest strength is its ageless sound.  Sounding as if it could have been made in 1969, 1996, or 2009, Ocean Colour Scene produced an unwavering testament to quality songwriting and the power of British melodic rock.

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