The Press Article
Fun, The Final Frontier
Life On Other Planets
GENTLE READER, you probably don't need reminding that this reviewing lark can be an up-its-arse pastime. But we reviewers do. As we strap on the forensic earoles, sharpen the blue pencil and clamber into the ivory tower to start microscopically picking over a CD for its fleas and diamonds, it's easy to forget that everyone else just shells out their hard-earned, takes the thing home, wrestles with the shrink-wrap for half-an-hour and then dives in with nothing on but a willingness to be entertained.
Thank Christ, then, for Supergrass, who don't require and hand wringing or chin-stroking. There's just no point agonising over the whys and wherefores of what they're up to. Here's another record by them that won't bear any scrutiny, that doesn't demand any response other than "This sounds ace!" Their instinct - always kept a little in check before, but allowed full flower on this record - is that the best pop is not the stuff that's knowing or anally over-crafted, but the stuff that gives you a good foamy buzz; sod whether a song actually makes any sense as long as the vibe is perfectly explicit. In this respect, they're pretenders to the mantle of Marc Bolan, whose presence is palpable throughout the first half of this extremely enjoyable, unapologetically frothy set. There's also something of The Small Faces here, that eternally youthful cup-runneth-over ebullience with a splash of sadness and a jigger of how's-your-father.
These are unfashionable roots, which may be why the 'Grass are curiously under-celebrated. Everyone I know adores their records, but tends to forget them when asked for a list of the great British groups. Yet it should be vastly to their credit that they're not standard issue self-publicists doggedly mining a genre, but are simply doing that rare thing, pleasing themselves and hoping the audience - whosoever fancies jumping on board their camper-van full of tunes - digs it too.
Their fourth album is much less mellow and introspective than the last one, much less explosive and bothered than the second on one and much less Ritalin-munching-younger-brotherish that the first one. What they achieve here is hard to get right: lush, summery music-for-pleasure that sounds effortless. This record will make you smile. Who else is doing this? Certainly not Toploader, who'd give their collective left nuts to feel this good on record but sound too A&R'd. Certainly not Blur, who are too serious and self-important - and ultimately too uninterested in pleasure. No, it's unusual for bands to be this freewheeling and sunny four albums into their career. And, if you do begin to analyse Life On Other Planets, it's bonkers. Here are songs that seem to be about murderous witches in the Welsh hills, a spell of community service and Chris Difford's daughter showing you her telescope, and others that seem to be about nothing at all.
This is a nightmare for alumni of the earnest school, of course. A Supergrass record is so much in and about its own sugar-dusted universe that it can take a few listens to stop mentally thumbing the musical swatch-book of approved reference points and remember that this band don't give a flying one about glitch-techno, nu-metal or Detroit-derived swagger. They have no interest in what a modern band 'should' be doing and may be the only great group currently operating whose formula contains not one molecule of The Velvet Underground.
Za does nothing much but kick open the door with a bang. Rush Hour Soul is fizzy glam-psych. See The Light fuses late T-Rex (Light Of Love or Soul Of My Suit) with a bubblegum-rock'n'roll chorus and a brilliant synth-filtered guitar solo.
Brecon Beacons is Bolan-goes-ska with that Hendrix kazoo-guitar sound and a surreal lyric. Evening Of The Day is a bizarre fusion of folk-rock, Chicago and Stonesy riffing that dissolves into a gentle coda where they undermine the whole exercise by revealing: "He's so stoned, he doesn't even know what he's on about/Maybe he should go and lay down." Never Done Nothing Like That Before is a punkoid blast with smashed pianos and their trademark malevolent-dolls la-la-ing - like a distillation of their first album in one minute and 40 seconds.
The second half of the record functions as an extended homage to prime 1970s McPop: the music that never crops up in Greatest Albums Ever Made lists. You can spot blatant references as populist (or, if you prefer, as canonically un-hip) as Wings (Prophet 15 rips off Let 'Em In something rotten), The Stranglers (La Song is Something Better Change crossed with Skin Deep) and ELO (the lovely closer, Run, is a tapestry of Beatley harmonies, Moog and Mellotron just like Jeff used to fashion).
And, no, this is not the greatest album ever made - it's not even the best album Supergrass have ever made - but it's a refreshing undemanding gust of late-summer fun.
For those who can't summon the wherewithal to care about the thrift-store credentials of the Teenage Rebels Of The Week, here's a chance to kick back and frolic in some homegrown foam for 40 minutes. And that's more than merely all right.
Mickey Quinn and Danny Goffey talk to Andrew Male.
So how does it happen? Do you just get to a point where you think, Oh God, we've got to put another album out?
Mickey Quinn: "Pretty much. When we're out touring we tinkle around in soundchecks and stuff, and if they're really any good then they'll end up on the record. We end up just throwing our bits together. I tend not to analyse how we write songs. We started in January last year, where we went down to the south of France and some places in Normandy as well; and sat around these off-season villas with acoustic guitars, just messing around and getting drunk."
Most bands would end up producing some horrible, indulgent noodle of a record.
MQ: "We did produce a horrible, self-indulgent album...(laughs). Then we scrapped that one and made this one. But we wouldn't have gotten to these songs unless we'd made the horrible, self-indulgent album first."
Do you see it as a progression?
MQ: "I dunno. We're just trying to do things differently. You don't want to repeat yourself. We do like making these little pocket pop songs though. No hangin' about."
Danny Goffey: "A lot of songs have really short verses, so if you repeat them too many times it becomes boring. Songs become shorter because we cram all the information in there."
Is it all down to a low boredom threshold?
DG: "Yeah... having to write another verse. I think we've always been conscious of not turning into a dodgy prog rock band."
What does it feel like to be back?
DG: "I think it's good. I've been told that the climate is right. I see bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes, they're great, but I do think that what you get with us, you get ever song with its own sort of flair, which is great. There aren't too many bands around now where the whole album is great. I think The White Stripes are really good. It's a bit shoddy but you know, that's great. And the mood is great. The mood is up. The only way is up."
Mojo - September 2002