The Press Article
Road To Rouen
Ten years on from Britpop, the older and wiser Oxford wunderkinder deliver an elegiac, micro-Sgt. Pepper. Partly recorded en Normande. By pat Gilbert.
Sitting down to write in 2025, the Mojo scribe, retro-chic iPod in hand, will ruminate on the really cool British bands of the '90s and the noughties. And the two names that'll come up are, I'll wager, Supergrass and Super Furry Animals. From the mists of time, their music will appear more original and weird and pertinent to their era than any other. They'll have a musical depth and resonance and variety that, say, Blur or Oasis wouldn't begin to possess. Trouble is that, just as The Small Faces and Traffic, or even The Kinks, often looked like innovative but unfathomable oddballs in the late '60s, pushed ever further into the commercial margins, so Supergrass's symbolic relation to the present now seems kind of... tenuous. To wit: how can a group who make such consistently brilliant records mean bugger all to most people?
The answer, logically, will take 20 years to surface. Meanwhile, Road To Rouen (get it?) carries on the tradition of being another perfectly formed glam-pop-psych Supergrass album, only this time with an added bucketful of melancholy that lends it the feel of some beautiful emission from a dying star. Such, perhaps, is Supergrass's own indifference to being pop contenders again that nothing here remotely resembles a hit single, let alone a reprise of Britpop smashes like Alright or Pumping On Your Stereo. Songs wash over you dreamily or chug wryly, all wistful seaside piano, atmospheric guitars, doomy percussion and insidious, nagging melodies.
The unwitting motif is moving on, not for exciting new pastures, but merely from fear of standing still. "Don't look back 'cos it's far to fall!" cries Gaz Coombes on opener, Tales Of Endurance Pts 4, 5 &6, marrying a swaying Charlatans riff to a scratchy Franz Ferdinand funk-out. The beautiful St Petersburg, like a psychedelic take on Neil Young's Harvest Moon, makes you think of Young and '70s camp popsters Sailor waltzing on acid.
Variety is here in spades, but little sense of occasion. Coffee In The Pot is a funny little cappuccino-bar shuffle, with Hungarian "hoys!" and Stephane Grappelli guitar; the mid-paced, reflective Road To Rouen laments that "following the signs will lead us away..."; Kick In The Teeth is a tranche of bright, Beatlesy pop circa Revolver, but makes no real attempt to befriend you.
This is a fine record, a real grower, but it also sees a group comfortably adrift, with a resigned, baleful smile. In 20 years it'll all make perfect sense.
Pat Gilbert, Mojo - September 2005