Is The Less I Believe It

As chance — and the Spotify algorithm — would have it, I found myself listening to a bunch of Ocean Colour Scene the other day. (I blame the fact that I had been listening to no shortage of 1990s Paul Weller just before that; Spotify probably thought, “Oh, you’re in a Dadrock mood,” somewhat justifiably.)

In the mid-90s, it felt as if OCS, as their fans called them — likely out of a quiet acceptance that “Ocean Colour Scene” is objectively a terrible name for anything, especially a band — were, if not the butt of a particular joke that was difficult to explain to anyone who didn’t immediately, instinctively get it, then at least a band that was on the periphery of not only Britpop, but the wider and more existential concept of “cool.” Imagine the British music scene of the time as an explosion of joy and melody and, yes, even cool; Ocean Colour Scene would be some distance away from the epicenter, with onlookers and scientists arguing over their relative merits, entirely unconvinced.

Listening back to them recently, I went for the songs I remembered liking the most — “The Day We Caught The Train,” “You’ve Got It Bad,” “Hundred Mile High City,” “July” — and I realized that, well, maybe I’d been looking at them all wrong all along. That’s not to say that the songs were any catchier or lyrically any better (Ocean Colour Scene’s lyrics were, often, awkward in such a way that you’d wonder if English was their second language), but that, maybe it’s a mistake to think of them as a band, per se.

This sounds like a joke, but in each of the songs that I liked — or, again, liked the most to be more precise — the thing that was most interesting was always that the center of the whole thing wasn’t the song, per se, not the melody or the lyrics, but a particular sound, or the feel of the whole thing. At their most interesting, Ocean Colour Scene’s music is like tone poems from so far out of left field that they go all the way back to being square again: hymns to a the vibe, except the vibe in question has all the inspiration of a house band covering the Beatles lazily in 1973.

Oddly, this realization made me like them far, far more. Maybe I should go back and revisit all of those Britpop alsoran bands, and see what they sound like today. Is the world really ready for that Cast revival? (Hopefully not.)

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