Anyone who has read more than a handful of my reviews will be familiar with my oddly conflicted attitude to the mid-90s Britpop movement. Seemingly a term coined by Stuart Maconie, it was one co-opted by mass-media to basically refer to any British guitar wielding act at the time. This led to a lot of acts that weren’t really Britpop being tagged with the name when they were nothing of the sort (Radiohead, Manic Street Preachers, etc), as well as a bizarre goldrush of record labels trying to sign any four or five piece who happened to be drinking in a Camden that weekend. This inevitably resulted in a lot of mediocre acts getting signed and ultimately a lot of tepid music that were then shoved down the collective throats of my generation. This model was not built to last, so by the end of the decade Britpop had burned itself out, leading to mass-culls from record labels now desperate to save cash and leaving a bunch of acts who should never have seen the inside of a recording studio feeling really rather bitter about the entire experience.
One of the few acts that genuinely deserved their moment in the Britpop sunshine was Ocean Colour Scene, a West Midlands quartet whose previous record label had remixed their debut album without their consent in a cynical attempt to jump on the baggy bandwagon of the early 90s. Having been burnt badly by the experience, half of OCS eventually looked up and found themselves backing Paul Weller, while the band as a whole circulated a newly recorded demo-tape. One of these tapes ended up in the hands of a Mr N Gallagher, whose opinions were at the time held in such esteem that the once washed up Ocean Colour Scene found themselves re-signed and heading in the studio to record what would ultimately result in Moseley Shoals, one of the biggest selling albums of 1996, and one which found them rubbing shoulders with both the worthy, and unworthy, Britpop elite. Moseley Shoals changed the course of OCS’s career and had established them as a retro rocking quartet who realised that there was more to the history of rock and roll than just a bunch of white blokes with guitars. They were now a big name and their next album would be crucial.
Marchin’ Already is OCS’s only album to hit the top of the charts, displacing the charmless bloated mess that was Oasis’s Be Here Now as it did so. Opening with “100 Mile High City”, a guitar-tactic high water mark in the band’s career, it’s an album which kicks off with no little vim and vigour and the first three tracks raise the expectation that it may eclipse its predecessor. As it turns out, that’s not quite the case. Much like Moseley Shoals, Marchin’ Already struggles to maintain its momentum, resulting in an album of peaks and troughs and little in the way of consistency. Where it hits its highs, OCS prove themselves to be a great guitar-orientated rock band with a well honed soulful edge, however there’s also a fair bit of the album that sounds like retro-rock by numbers. Granted, the quartet’s innate talent pretty much carries them through the album’s less interesting songs, and the fact that they displayed significantly less opinion-splitting arrogance than either of the Gallagher brothers ensures that even their lesser numbers never explore the teeth-grindingly awful depths that the very worst Britpop frequently sunk to.
Where Marchin’ Already really works is the skilful blend of Steve Cradock’s riffing with the band’s more soulful elements, which may have sounded hackneyed were it not for Simon Fowler’s well considered vocal delivery, particularly on his duet with P.P. Arnold on the album closing “It’s a Beautiful Thing”. It’s a great way to sign off a mixed bag of an album that inspires wows and indifference in equal measures. It’s also an album which confirms the belief of some that at least two thirds of Britpop acts were capable of great singles, but struggled when it came to album-length statements (that said, there’s a truly great multi-artist box set of the Britpop Years still waiting to be compiled). Marchin’ Already is just one of those albums where the singles released from it overshadowed the vast majority of the album, with only the instrumental “All Up”, “Foxy’s Folk Faced” and the aforementioned “It’s a Beautiful Thing” avoiding that fate.
Marchin’ Already was the album that confirmed Ocean Colour Scene as a capable rock and roll singles act that were a cut above the more generic Britpop footsoldiers. History suggests that they were always destined to dwell in the twin shadows of Paul Weller (pretty much Britpop’s only solo act) and the omnipresent Oasis, however at this point in the 90s, with Weller enduring something of a temporary lull in form and Oasis’ being exposed as the musical snake oil salesmen they had always been, OCS were able to outshine both.