I am stymied at how long I’ve dearly loved “The Killing Moon” for 39 years and yet I’ve only just bought the “Ocean Rain” album. Will Sergeant’s deftly accentuated guitar chords in the intro against the lowing cellos and the cymbals of DeFreitas splashing in the background like the moonlit tide on the cover of the single created a vivid tableaux of dark portent that stood completely apart from the neon-lit cyberpop that would typify 1984 in the UK.
The rich strings were augmented by pizzicato plucking in the chorus with a decadent piano hook leading into the next verse. Through it all, Ian McCulloch supported the mournful melodrama and miasma of doom that hung over the song like a champ with his deft vocal. The instrumental middle eight was another showcase for Sergeant’s evasive guitar melodies. Never taking the obvious path through the gates of the song. At the song’s midpoint the chorus was repeated until the its end, as Sergeant rose upward through the octaves of the song while the orchestra buttressed his keening exploration as Mac dropped an octave in response for the sepulchral climax.
After “The Killing Moon,” “Seven Seas” brought us into the light of dawn via its acoustic guitars and its descending tubular bell hook shone like the morning sun on the titular seas of the song. Sergeant had half of the middle eight for another solo; jangly this time, before Mr. McCulloch took an expansive turn before circling back with the orchestra and the doubletime drums spinning the chorus into the effulgent climax of the song.
Concertina gave way to skittery brushed drums before the acoustic guitar swept into the waltz time of “My Kingdom.” Mac’s pleading vocal on the verses getting support from his massed backing vocals before the questing tone of Sergeant’s clean, sustained solo probed upward and outward. Returning for an even more wonderful solo at the song’s climax where it had the final reverberant word in the cold ending to this glorious song.
The double bass of Les Pattinson guided us into the title track of the album before ceding the enormous space of the song to the distant strings and the dominant voice of Ian McCulloch. Gradually the strings swept in with their melancholy hook, that sounded so familiar to me. I’ve heard it somewhere else in the last 40 years, but I just can’t place it now.
The band and orchestra became more present as they filled up the spaces in the song to attain a glorious, passionate crescendo, with Mac pushing to deliver an almost operatic finale to this song and album. Ian talked about how the album had been inspired by Paris in the liner notes, but the climax to “Ocean Rain” sounded nothing if not purely Italian.
Next: …Television [Not The Band]
Over time, you get familiar and comfortable with these great songs, so beautifully performed … but then, if you’re lucky, some time and distance takes you away for a while, and when you come back you can again bask in the wonderful wash of the perfectly produced pop on offer, like a long-awaited dinner with an old friend.
For what it sets out to accomplish as well as what brings to the table, Ocean Rain is a nearly flawless jewel that embodies the best of all of their previous efforts, and shines particularly bright given the backdrop of the decline of the musical class of 1979-81.