Ethereal, delicate, shimmering, beautiful, mysterious, poetic, majestic, powerful, sublime. These are all words that have been used to describe the ocean, and they’re all words that could be used to describe The Ocean Blue, Hershey, Pennsylvania’s second claim to fame behind chocolate. If I were a better writer, I’d probably be able to find some connection between chocolate and the ocean, but right now it’s escaping me.
In 1989, The Ocean Blue were the US answer to the Smiths/Morrissey and shoegazer bands. With wispy but moving music framing David Schelzel’s sensitive voice and lyrics, songs like “Drifting, Falling” and “Sublime” were instant pop classics. It didn’t hurt that the band members’ male-model good looks made them dreamboats to alternative-type girls either. But J. Crew or not, The Ocean Blue made a place and a name for themselves on the honest merits of their music. Cerulean and Beneath the Rhythm and Sound are certifiable college radio wonderworks, if not quite masterpieces. After some mainly ignored mid-’90s albums, it seemed as if The Ocean Blue had lost its current.
However, the band has returned in full style with Davy Jones’ Locker. Or rather, re-returned. This “new” album was actually produced and released by the band members themselves in 1999, but the difficulty in keeping up with distribution convinced them to move to the small, independent label March Records. And it’s a good thing they did because this re-release will allow those of us who aren’t in the band’s hardcore fan base to hear another stellar addition to an already impressive discography.
While there may not be a single song that leaps out and competes for the greatness that Schelzel and crew achieved with “Sublime”, tracks like “Denmark”, “Ayn”, and “Cake” are among the band’s best. Perhaps the most impressive and endearing element to Davy Jones’ Locker is that it you could be listening to any of these songs and think it was an outtake from Cerulean or their earlier discs. Which is not to say that The Ocean Blue hasn’t grown much over the years. While there is a level of maturity that comes through in both the lyrics and instrumentation, the beauty is that The Ocean Blue hasn’t changed in reaction to the pressures of making popular music. Instead, they’ve concentrated on making consistently good music, and sales be damned.
Apparently this is the whole reason that The Ocean Blue has been quiet as of late. Even with a four year hiatus between Davy Jones’ Locker and their last album, the band hasn’t broken up, they’ve just decided to keep it simple and, if it’s not too pedantic to say so, pure. With simplicity reigning the day, the one place that Davy Jones’ Locker falls flat is in production value. The members of The Ocean Blue took a light touch with the mix on these songs, and while that compliments the band’s music and direction, it never quite reaches the apex of power that their music held in their Sire days. On the other hand, such a soft quality makes for an engaging experience. The listener may work a little harder to pick up the subtle textures of the music, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. And for a band to have self-produced an entire album of excellent and lovely pop songs, to say that production is light is no great criticism.
As I listened to Davy Jones’ Locker, I was reminded of old XTC from the Mummer era and recent Travis from the The Man Who. Somewhere between these two points in history The Ocean Blue first rose to fame. While there is always the suspicious appearance of musical tastes running in cycles (who’d have ever believed in a disco revival 10 years ago?), The Ocean Blue makes a strong case for linearity. A brilliant band comes along and simply makes great music until they quit. Billboard charts may track wave-like trends, but beneath that corporate radar, great music continues regardless. As Davy Jones’ Locker silently proves, The Ocean Blue didn’t play to popularity then, and won’t now. They’ll simply be their ethereal, delicate, shimmering, beautiful, etc. selves until the end.