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Stereophonics, Oochya! ★★★☆☆

Stereophonics’ 12th album starts exactly as you might expect, with a slick and sleazy guitar riff firing up a full-on blast of bluesy rock whilst songwriter, guitarist and frontman Kelly Jones spits out a lyric crammed with rock ‘n’ roll buzzwords such as love, hate, boys, girls, time, faith, devils, sinners and saints, as if just by piling them all up they might yield some meaning. “So what’s new?” Jones drawls at one point, to which one might be tempted to respond: “Not a lot.” But that is exactly the appeal of Britrock’s great survivors.

It has been 25 years since Stereophonics’ 1997 debut, Word Gets Around. A power trio from Cwmaman in Wales, they were unapologetically old-fashioned right from the start. Late entrants in the fading light of Britpop, they revved-up the genre’s 1960s-fetishising, art-pop stylings with a hefty dose of 1970s raunch. Think of that style of good-time, raucous boogie rock and soul riffage once banged out with considerable élan by tight-trousered, long-haired men in such uncomplicated bands as The Faces and Free, with a hefty dash of The Rolling Stones at their least self-conscious. The Welsh ensemble’s not so secret weapon was Jones himself, a slick guitarist and catchy pop songwriter with one of those ripped and ragged soul voices that makes every note sound like it was issued in a state of emotional torture yet somehow always remains tuneful.

The title, Oochya!, is not (according to Jones) the sound you make when you step on a piece of Lego, but a celebratory incantation, “a bit like ‘let’s have it!’ – a blast of energy and optimism”. The band smash through 15 songs in just over an hour, spanning raunchy pop rock to overwrought ballads and back again. Every one of them has a chorus that will instantly lodge in your head, whether you welcome it or not.

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What Jones and his cohort (who added an extra guitarist in 2012, just in case anyone was concerned there weren’t enough fuzzy riffs and howling solos to go round) are particularly good at is building tracks, so that basic, repetitive elements are gradually underscored until the ending becomes a kind of valedictory reiteration of what we have heard so far, usually with Jones roaring on top like an unchained beast. The songs themselves may not be complex but the simple and sincere emotions expressed on anthems such as the chiming indie epic Forever, the rip-roaring AC/DC-style rocker Running Round My Brain and the Rod-Stewart-flavoured piano ballad Every Dog Has Its Day carry a potent weight of feeling and offer euphoric release.

Critics tend to be disparaging about artists who stay so resolutely inside their comfort zone, and yet there is a purist thrill in honoring a style to perfection. How else do you explain such much-loved 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, then get it back out on the road and flog it for all its worth. Oochya! indeed. neil mccormick

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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