Album review by Eric Sandberg
The Ocean Blue are on a roll. With the release of their seventh full-length album Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves on June 21, the band has cut the gap between albums to a paltry six years. Their previous record, 2013's Ultramarine was widely hailed as their finest to date, but that standing may be in jeopardy.
The new album continues to explore the unique musical niche the band created for themselves with their debut self-titled Sire/Reprise album in 1989. Indeed, the semi-title track "Kings and Queens" kicks things off with all the band's hallmarks: a shimmering guitar arpeggio buoyed by a Wurlitzer counter melody and a lyrical reference to the ocean delivered in front man David Schelzel's soothing, laconic voice, which I might describe as Nick Heyward after the Ambien has kicked in if I had less self-control as a writer.
At first blush, this album seems no different — another in a series — familiar and reassuring. One really doesn't want this beloved band to change much lest something precious and dear be lost. After listening to the album repeatedly, however, I did begin to notice something. Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves is The Ocean Blue's most confident sounding album since their debut, and their most sonically pleasing.
Jim Ladd take note: this is a headphone album. A great deal of care, inspiration and attention to detail went into the arrangements of these songs. There is a varied and pleasing pallet of guitar tones employed by chief songwriter Schelzel and ace utility player Oed Ronne — each perfectly suited to the song. Ronne also delivers some of his best work on the keyboard front, mixing modern sounds with retro synth flourishes that recall Ultravox and Gary Numan, and are spooned out in doses measured to serve each song.
Ronne, Schelzel, Mittan and Anderson
Holding it all down is the tight, economical drumming of Peter Anderson, who especially shines on the spritely "Paraguay My Love" [a song that could be mistaken for The Decemberists sped up to 45 from 33 1/3] and the urgent, pulsating bass lines of founding member Bobby Mittan. The Ocean Blue are fortunate to have kept Mittan in the fold all these years as he is the key to maintaining the band's sound. Just compare any post Pete de Freitas Echo & the Bunnymen album to their earlier work and you'll understand what I mean.
Standout tracks include: "Therein Lies the Problem In My Life" a mouthful of a lyric but one that has been stuck in my head since its release on a Korda Records sampler last year. The bouncy, acoustic driven "Give It a Little Time" is a simple ditty that threatens to become a symphony during the bridge. "Love Doesn't Make It Easy On Us," featuring guest vocalists Charlotte Crabtree and Allison Labonne, is lush, brooding and charming all at once. The beautiful "All the Way Blue" has a title that immediately conjures Nick Drake and musically sends you drifting, not unlike Drake's best songs.
If you're already a fan of The Ocean Blue, there is nothing here that disappoints. If you're not that familiar with them, Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves is a perfect place to begin — and then go fast forward in reverse.
The Ocean Blue have dates scheduled, hopping back and forth across the continent [and even dipping down to Peru for a couple of gigs] scheduled into December in support of Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves. You can check if they're coming to a venue near you here: http://www.theoceanblue.com/shows
Order the album and other merchandise here: https://www.theoceanblue.com/shop
To read a review of an The Ocean Blue concert from last year click here.
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.