Ocean Colour Scene

Ocean Colour Scene

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A classic case of a band searching for an identity on its debut album, Ocean Colour Scene couldn't decide whether it wanted to be Madchester rave-up, shoegaze drift, or the kind of proto-soul/R&B revivalist outfit that would eventually determine the group's future (and fairly dull) career. In ways, though, the debut could easily be the best overall thing the band recorded, showing more of a sense of genre experimentation than it did in later life, able to cover the bases from the sweet zone-out of the opening "Talk On" to the Stevie Wonder cover "Do Yourself a Favor," given a sturdy if not particularly noteworthy remake. The secret highlight of the album is possibly "Justine," a stripped-down, hushed acoustic guitar/cello ballad; if it's not Nick Drake or John Martyn, say, there's something about the low-key atmosphere, Fowler's calm vocals detailing a strange, domineering figure with her "pretty girls chained inside the dungeon." Other songs like "Third Shade of Green" and the shimmering chime and groove of "Blue Deep Ocean" suggest that if Ocean Colour Scene had aimed at developing more of its brand of psychedelic English soul, the band might have really had something. On much of the album, Fowler's fairly thin semi-whine is his undoing -- if less strident than the years of his Brit-pop dominance, when it's not working it's fairly painful, but that's not a constant situation since he seems to be assaying a varying number of approaches throughout the album. Sometimes he's trying to be the young Joe Cocker or Rod Stewart -- or more appropriately, the new Paul Weller -- a little too hard, raising unenviable comparisons, but the easier delivery on the semi-tropical funk of "Penny Pinching Rainy Heaven Days" shows that he could relax when needed.

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