History tells us that London’s R.O.C make albums at the rate of one every decade. It’s not a great statistic but amongst record company wrangles, this is not a reflection of the quality of their output and it would be fair to say that this most unusual band would be much better known today if fate had dealt them a better hand. The reissue of their self-titled debut from 1995 at least gives R.O.C a chance to elevate them above footnote status.
R.O.C have always been mavericks; musical magpies intent on messing with listeners’ heads. Vocal duties were shared between Glaswegian import Karen Sheridan, who provided the street sass and Fred Browning, whose every utterance suggested a warped mind was at work; none more so than on ‘Sylvia’s Thighs’, a sinister-sounding tribute to Emmanuelle actress Sylvia Kristel. Joined by fellow musician and founder member Patrick Nicholson, they made a formidable trio.
Early impressions can be deceptive so ‘Desert Wind’ may essentially be chill out but with a caveat that there is a strong sense of danger lurking round the corner and it’s an accurate impression given what is to follow and the next track, ‘Excised’, couldn’t be more different. Against a rock and harmonica backing, Browning unleashes what can only be described as a verbal assault and only R.O.C could begin the song with a recording from a friend’s wedding.
The busy funk pop of ‘Hey You Chick’ was the band in their most commercial guise but it’s one of the few tracks which hasn’t aged so well. Yet on the pop potential front, the band fared better on the infectious ‘Dear Nicky’ and the Browning-led crazy, carousel ride that is ‘Clouds’. Yet the album is arguably at its best towards the centre. Firstly, there’s a subtle moment of sublime ambience courtesy of ‘Balloon’, then for ‘Real Time’, Sheridan’s seductive whisper is the perfect foil for some aching post-rock backing and the effervescent ‘I Want You I Need You I Miss You’ still sounds effortlessly cool today.
R.O.C sought to challenge the listener and this is evident on a sprawling, eclectic album which, at over an hour in length, could have done with a bit of pruning but contains plenty of indications that sampling, ambience, dance, rock, creepy thoughts and a little bit of pop really could work together. The follow-up ‘Virgin’ saw the band streamline their ideas into more cohesive form but the start of this story is a compelling one which now deserves some much overdue respect.