Stereophony, Oochya! ★★★☆☆
Stereophonics’ 12th album starts out exactly as you’d expect, with a slick, sleazy guitar riff that kicks off an explosion of bluesy rock as songwriter, guitarist and frontman Kelly Jones spits word-heavy lyrics at rock ‘n’ roll fashion such as love, hate, boys, girls, time, faith, demons, sinners and saints, as if just by piling them all together they could give a senses. “So what’s up?” Jones drags on at one point, to which one might be tempted to reply, “Not much.” But that’s exactly the appeal of Britrock’s great survivors.
It’s been 25 years since Stereophonics debuted in 1997, Word Gets Around. A power trio from Cwmaman in Wales, they were unabashedly old fashioned from the start. Coming late into the fading light of Britpop, they revived the fetishist art-pop styles of the 1960s with a healthy dose of 1970s scorch. Think of that style of good times, raucous boogie rock and soulful riffs once hit with considerable momentum by men in tight pants and long hair in bands as simple as The Faces and Free, with a good dose of The Rolling Stones at their head. least bothered. The Welsh ensemble’s not-so-secret weapon was Jones himself, a skilled guitarist and catchy pop songwriter with one of those ragged, tattered soulful voices that makes every note sound like it’s been issued in a state of emotional torture while still remaining melodious.
The title, Oochya!, is not (according to Jones) the sound you make when you step on a piece of Lego, but a celebratory incantation, “kind of like ‘let’s go!’ – a breath of energy and optimism”. The band churned through 15 songs in just over an hour, ranging from searing pop rock to overworked ballads and back again. Each of them has a chorus that will instantly lodge in your head, whether you like it or not.
What Jones and his cohort (who added an extra guitarist in 2012, just in case anyone worried there weren’t enough fuzzy riffs and screaming solos to do the trick) are particularly good at building tracks, so the basic repetitive elements are gradually emphasized until the end becomes a sort of farewell reiteration of what we’ve heard so far, usually with Jones roaring at the top like a raging beast. The songs themselves may not be complex, but the simple, heartfelt emotions expressed on such anthems as the indie epic Forever, the heartbreaking AC/DC-style rocker Running Round My Brain, and the flavorful piano ballad Rod-Stewart’s Every Dog Has Its Day carries a powerful weight of sentiment and delivers euphoric release.
Critics tend to disparage artists who stay so resolutely inside their comfort zone, and yet there’s a purist thrill to honing a style to perfection. Otherwise, how would you explain such beloved rock institutions as the Ramones, Status Quo, AC/CD, ZZ Top and Motorhead? Stereophonics have had 11 Top 10 albums, including seven number ones. If it ain’t broke, put it back on the road and whip it for all its worth. Ouchya! In effect. Neil McCormick