Stout Mosely yeomen return. Again
Aye, the agricultural revolution was a wonderful time to be a lad, even in Birmingham. Windmills drove the nation, a green and pleasant one where you could eat roast beef every day without fear of catching a new-fangled disease. An honest man could earn an honest crust doing an honest day’s work with his guitar, manage a few chores for Chris Evans after tea and still have time to go round to Weller’s for a ‘smoke’. Marvellous.
But, friends, that was yesterday. As he rolls up his sleeves on Ocean Colour Scene’s fifth album, Simon Fowler, smart boy, has detected things have changed in Old Albion. “The radio plays at me but it don’t sing a song”, he laments, jauntily enough. “But the mechanical wonder is how it’s all going wrong”. Young people, dance music and that pesky electricity, they spoil everything.
More so than ever, ‘Mechanical Wonder’ is suffused with nostalgia for a world that never existed. On ‘In My Field’, Fowler celebrates the joys of hiking, though given the track’s a thumping great Who pastiche, you hope the footpaths lead him near Roger Daltrey’s trout farm. For the oddly funky first single, ‘Up On The Downside’ (The Style Council spring unaccountably to mind), he makes some confused points about England teaching him “wrong and right” but now being “a land of a million fools”.
It’s fair to say Ocean Colour Scene, cheerlessly proficient, still haven’t musically progressed very far into the ’70s. There is a distinct mellowing of vibes this time round, which does produce a prettily baroque ballad in ‘If I Gave You My Heart’, but also leaves ‘Mechanical Wonder’ problematically free
of the big shoutalongs that made the band one of the most lucrative of the ’90s.
It’s then you remember that, bizarrely, Ocean Colour Scene are young enough to be Eric Clapton’s children, and have been successful for a mere five years. That’s remarkably quick time to become a national institution. But, like most English institutions, it’s hard to remember why they’re there, and even harder to work out how to get rid of them.