Big Heavy Stuff – Size of the Ocean

Big Heavy Stuff
Size of the Ocean

The daily grind of being in a band often seems to be more trouble than it’s worth. For the privileged few, millions of dollars and an adoring fan base can make it all worthwhile, but for those who are slugging it day-in day-out on the pub-rock circuit, such epic rewards would seem well beyond their grasp.
Big Heavy Stuff, having done the requisite time touring smaller venues and receiving little backing, are ready for a big step up. Over the past decade they’ve collected a dedicated set of fans, and they’ve supported several international rock luminaries, including Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, Stone Roses, and Radiohead (who hand-picked BHS for their Ok Computer Australian tour. After taking some time off, they’re back with Size of the Ocean, a thoughtful, melodic album with enough quality to escape being damned with faint praise.
Having said that, a first listen to this album has the potential to under-whelm the listener. The faultless production, coupled with the mostly quiet songs and the smooth nature of vocalist Greg Atkinson’s voice, makes the music sink to the back of your mind; there’s nothing on first listen to grasp you and engage you. That’s not to say the songs aren’t beautifully crafted – at their best BHS sound like Crowded House on a good day – but it seems that there isn’t too much to distinguish Size of the Ocean from countless other like-minded albums.
Repeated listenings tell a much different story, however. Drummer Nick Kennedy stated that the band was “influenced by various band members living between the mountains, the city and the beach,” and the quiet beauty of the mountains and the beach – and the joys of transit between them – are hidden in the songs themselves. Opening number “Hibernate” is a sure-fire standout, a simple, warm acoustic number that is quite rightly a fan favourite at the BHS live show. “Devil’s Tongue” and “Hibernate” go in different directions, adding a bit of grit into the mixture, giving the songs a high replay factor. “Two Sisters” and “Redhead” are pure Neil Finn, with the former in particular being an excellent example of the range of emotions that BHS can convey. The song starts simply enough, a few strummed chords, before careening off in a different direction, and by the end it almost sounds like a different song entirely.
Towards the middle of the album there is a brief glut of sameness, where quiet thoughtfulness seems to have run its course. However, “Hank,” the semi-epic “Forever Sighs the Ocean,” and the squally “Freaks in the Circus” see BHS indulge their rocky side, which is a pleasant contrast with the more melodic tracks. The album closes with “You Send Me” and “Bye the Blue Sky,” a slow-burning rocker and quiet acoustic number respectively, which brings the album to a pleasant, cyclical end.
Size of the Ocean’s strength is definitely it’s subtlety; a bit of time invested in the album will prove worthwhile in the end. Whilst it doesn’t replicate the wilder sound of earlier BHS albums (or for that matter their stunning live show), it does provide plenty of room for the listener to grow intimately acquainted with the tracks. Definitely more than just another average guitar-pop album.