Gusters On the Ocean EP is a collection of live performances and B-sides from their 2010 album, Easy Wonderful. Released after the fact, then, it would perhaps be best to judge its six songs as what they are: a cut-together collection of odds and ends.
A collection of songs it is, though, and Guster has made it clear that they dont want these tracks to be viewed as throwaways: B-sides, while seemingly the rejected bastard children of an album, are often some [of] our favorite material that just didn’t fit into the sequence of a record. In their honor, then, we will treat this as an album all of its own rather than as an offshoot of other work.
With that in mind, the following needs to be said: Live tracks dont work very effectively in the middle of albums. Mostly because they are placed on collections as reference points (a live version of a song is rarely good in its own right, but appeals to existing fans, surely?) its hard for them to impress without the context of fandom, and if On the Ocean is going to appeal in its own right, it needs seductive powers, a way to pull in new listeners. Live tracks just wont do that, even if theyre of a band’s more famous songs; Satellite is one of the two here, plus Thats No Way to Get to Heaven.
They dont appeal here. But on the plus side, the studio tracks certainly do. Opener On the Ocean is a lovely track, its chorus so nicely sung, the words A storm is on the way, but I will hold on anyway so wonderfully exhaled, like an afterthought. At times its lyrics are a little tritethe opening line is Am I asleep?/Is this a dream?/Oh my god, what have I done?/Anything?but on the whole, the song, pulsing along nicely in a way thats reminiscent of bands like Tears for Fears, Simple Minds, and New Order, is a real success. It’s followed by Big White Bed, which makes up for some of the lyrical slights of its predecessor, a bouncing, pastiche-heavy, acoustic guitar-led track that has great lines like Everybody that youve ever known is gonna die, dont cry; theres a big white bed in heaven and Theres nothing you can say or do thats gonna save your life; its alright, theres a big white bed up in heaven. Slightly saccharine, certainly a little funny, and in a way touching, the juxtaposition of these fatalistic sentiments of the mildly farcical big white bed, combined with a recurring horn-led refrain, is seriously refreshing,
Of the remaining two tracks, its lead singer Ryan Millers remix of Easy Wonderfuls This is How It Feels to Have a Broken Heart that stands out, with the slightly weak Every Moment, the third studio track, coming in last.
What we have here, then, is an EP of two very strong tracks, a half-decent remix of an album release, and live versions of two of Gusters songs. Can we really judge it on its merits as Guster has asked? Probably not. With 50% of On the Ocean comprising previously released material, albeit in modified form, it seems that their intentions and their actions are a little out of sync. As a result, it feels a little disjointed and sometimes sparse. Nonetheless, for the first two tracks alone, this is worth the investment.