On its third album, Supergrass has found its soul.
The cheeky Britpop lads who charmed us with their infectious debut, I Should Coco, and evolved into ace songwriters and musicians on their sophomore album, In It For The Money, have returned with a self-titled third release that refines the elements separating the band from its peers.
Opener "Moving" illustrates one of the most admirable talents of the still-young band - the ability to surprise. Starting out as a minor-key lament over acoustic guitar, the song pauses right before the chorus as an electric haze emerges from the background, and then dives into the funkiest groove the band has yet created - a thick, syncopated melange of distorted Hammond organ, phat bass, handclaps, bells and whistles. When the second verse begins, the song has become a different animal, reassuring the listener that this is indeed the exciting band we were expecting, but also that we shouldn't assume what to expect from their music.
A smidgeon of the youthful energy and irreverence that permeated the band's first two discs has here been converted into musical maturity. But this doesn't mean the 'grass have compromised themselves or lost their spirit of individuality. In fact, it's proof of the band's strong resolve to keep exploring new territory.
"Eon" and "Born Again" are two tracks that wouldn't have fit next to any of the band's past work, but here they serve as portents, glimpses of Supergrass' ever-expanding range. Both enjoy lengthy instrumental intros, sorting out the possibilities of their progressions before settling down onto plateaus of sound, making way for singer Gaz Coombes to engage each in a little sly crooning. But his distinct voice, long the boisterous anchor of the band's sound, here cannot compete with the splendour of the music; in both cases he brings it in softly, as a complement to the trance-like landscape of the songs' design.
It falls to the press to label this inventive trio's music "Britpop," which I suppose is as good a term as any, since its songs do exhibit a certain Englishness, and they usually present hooks bound to catch somewhere in the part of your brain that appreciates art and emotion. But there's something about them that can't be lumped in with the Suedes, the Oasises, the Travises of the modern music world. In a word: soul. A sense of earthiness, an intensity of feeling; you find it in the locked-in groove and bursting chorus of "Your Love," the tingling stomp of "What Went Wrong (In Your Head)," and the laid-back funk of "Mary".
Even the introspective, acoustic "Shotover Hill" has that intangible nature of soulfulness - the band members don't sound like they're concentrating as much on actually playing the song as they are communicating the transcendent sense of walking up on the serene hill of the song's inspiration, near their recording studios in Cornwall, England. As Coombes sings in the chorus "When I come here I don't feel so alone / it's alright, I'm solarized," the listener doesn't need to spend much time figuring out what the words mean - it's implied in the heartfelt sound of the vocal.
Supergrass is a band of three wonderfully talented musicians (but let's not forget ace keyboardist Rob, aka Gaz' elder brother), and they have once again put their skills to good use on Supergrass. As their mighty repertoire expands, one can only hope the best is yet to come.
Troy Carpenter, Nude As The News