The Press Article
Life On Other Planets
Supergrass have always offered a pretty fresh take on the grand traditions of UK rock (big guitars, big melodies, sly humor, caricatured self-confidence), from their early days as three-chord ruffians, to their brilliant sophomore effort In It for the Money, to the Stonesy swagger of their self-titled third album. Their fourth, Life on Other Planets, is a 40-minute tour of 70s British rock, but more to the point, it's a summary of Supergrass' own career, merging all of the band's many mutations into one decisive sound, for better or worse. On the one hand, there's an abundance of energy and some great songwriting; on the other, there's less focus here than on either of their previous two releases.
This is clear from the outset, when the disc opens with a brief BBC-ish synth intro (could have fallen out of the back pocket of Rick Wakeman's flared, embroidered hip huggers, for all I know), before launching into the flashy, piano-pinned strut of "Za", a traditional Supergrass rocker stuffed with big, crashing Mick Ronson riffage, but backed by strange, wordless vocals. From there, we smash headfirst into "Rush Hour Soul", an unpredicted blast of musclebound guitar and thunderfingered bass with heavy eyeliner and a sequined jean jacket, before being faced with "Seen the Light", which features a questionable Elvis impression on the hapless line, "I'm a rock 'n' roll singer in a rock 'n' roll band," compensated for with a great melody.
So far, we've got a handful of strong showings from the shag-headed Londoners, and no actual cohesion. Then again, stability can only count for so much when tracks like the full-throttle murder melodrama of "Brecon Beacons" and the Moog-slathered "Grace", with a melody sticker than a sun-melted Baby Ruth, come bursting from the fray. Ahh, if only the whole album were that consistent. The thing is, their 100%-of-everything approach has its drawbacks, and nowhere is this more clearly evident than on "Evening of the Day", which-- though it nails a perfect balance between Small Faces-style Brit-rock and straight-up B.B. King blues-- isn't all that engaging, content to devolve into a kind of aimless music hall thing that sounds like it was recorded several beers after tipsy.
Elsewhere, "Never Done Nothing Like That Before" marinates the Swell Maps in "Strawberry Fields" Mellotron, but what could be sonically interesting instead annoys in the context of a song whose vocals are contemptibly forgettable and whose lyrics regard "blowing chunks." "The Funniest Thing" has some subversively catchy, dark grooves in its verses, but the song's form is all over the place, and never gels into anything remotely memorable.
But Life on Other Planets brings it back together at the end for the closer, "Run", whose glossy harmonies and squiggly effects pick up on the spacier bits of the 1970s and squash them into a glowing, noise-addled coda fitting for an album that spends most of its time burning energy with reckless abandon. And all told, the record's a fine supplement to the 70s, for those times when you just want it all in one place. Once the mild frustration with certain tracks subsides and you're strapped in, Supergrass deliver far better than expected eight years into their career. Which all goes to show that just because you've got nearly a decade into the Britpop game doesn't mean you have to go stale. Right, Suede?
Joe Tangari, Pitchfork - 25 February 2003