Given the circumstances, Stereophonics have done well to even come close to keeping up their customary work rate of an album every other year. And given the fact that frontman Kelly Jones had a solo record out last year, we can surely cut them a few months’ slack when appraising Oochya!, their follow-up to 2019’s Kind.
And it’s to their credit that, 25 years on from their debut, they still sound like they’ve got itches to scratch. Jones promised this would be a more upbeat album than its predecessor, and it certainly starts out that way when lead-off single Hanging On Your Hinges, an irresistible hard rocker built around bluesy, Billy Gibbons-ish fuzz-guitar riffs, opens proceedings.
It’s as if the band are keen to prove they’ve still got the same gnarly bit between their teeth that they had when they were a teenage three-piece. But further in there are mellower charms that will better suit the Radio 2-listening sections of their fans, for better or worse.
Forever has the kind of soaring, escapist rush of a chorus that latter-day Stereophonics have made a trademark, while Right Place Right Time, a sentimental country-rock ballad, has Jones delving into his personal back story, touching on the ‘beautiful word serendipity’ of getting the band together and meeting his wife.
A tendency to rely on lyrical cliché is still in evidence on songs such as Every Dog Has Its Day, when he follows up the titular observation by qualifying: ‘If the stars line up that way, and every night has its day if the sun comes up again’. Right.
And yet Leave The Light On is a beautiful acoustic soul number that succeeds even if Jones is advising someone to let their love light shine, get their feet on the ground, no more running round etc, etc. Do we care for such pedantry when the heart of the performance beats so powerfully?
No one expects Stereophonics to reinvent the rock’n’roll wheel, but they lovingly half-inch a few in some style. Running Around My Brain channels the classic AC/DC rhythm section sound, complete with Angus Young-style guitar solo, then on the anthemic trad-rock of Made A Mess Of Me they show they can ape Bryan Adams just as skilfully.
There’s more than an hour of music on Oochya! – a double LP’s worth, in old money – and as with most albums of such length you can easily argue over the more forgettable tracks that could have been left out. But for the most part the record showcases a band still looking forward to the next challenge.