Splendour 'n' The Grass
They soundtracked the Britpop era and toughed out the lean years. Now Supergrass stand as one of our very best rock bands
Diamond Hoo Ha
Here's an idea a friend posed to me recently after several nips on the booze. Supergrass, he slurred, were the best thing about Britpop. At first, I thought him half-mad or leathered, but it did get me thinking. They weren't Pulp, the nylon-trousered masters of perviness and heartbreak whose contributions to music aare still underrated. Neither were they Blur, the ruffle-haired innovators of English pastoral pop, nor were they Oasis with their hooligan singalong rock. But what they were was a raggle-taggle gang full of beans, heart and spark, throwing songs into the world like fizzy firecrackers. And while they didn't have the balls, the cheek, or the mind of their peers (Lian, Damon and Jarvis had those), they had the big hungry teeth. They also had the hair, but that's another matter entirely.
In the infinite parade of '90s nostalgia-porn we've enjoyed (or endured) since the start of this decade, Supergrass are almost always forgotten. If they're remembered, it's for their speedy cartoon anthem Alright
, with it's perky lyrics ("We are young, we are green/Keep our teeth nice and clean") and accompanying video where they travel across a beach on a bed. While Blur fancied themselves as The Kinks and Oasis as The Beatles, the boys who looked like apes were often portrayed as that decade's Monkees. These days, people all too often forget their feverish rock and roll, their beautiful wrought ballads, and their continuing presence in pop, including their brilliant 2002 album Life On Other Planets
and 2005's horribly punned-up Road To Rouen
. They also forget how exciting they were when they emerged. Take it from a girl who saw them for the first time at Glastonbury in 1995, sweat pouring off their sideburns as their guitars crashed and burned. It was nothing less than a transcendental experience for me. Then again, I was 17 and had barley been kissed.
But let's get back to those teeth. Diamond Hoo Ha
, Supergrass's sixth album, begins with gnashers brazenly bared on opening track and lead single, Diamond Hoo Ha Man
: "When you hold me down", goes the chorus, "I just can't resist... BITE me!" These words come after a riff sculpted out of a rather hard rock, one that climaxes so readily it should sponsor Viagra. As for the whole package put together, my delicate constitution can hardly bear hearing it, partly due to its complete absorption in rock and roll cliche and partly because I am a heterosexual woman with red blood in her veins. The red blood wins out, and this tune blasts out of the speakers like a near-perfect rock single, above and beyond the bounds of ridiculousness.
This carnal raunch continues thorughout the record. This is strange for a band who became famous as teenagers, the time when scientists tell us that the male is at his sexual peak. Saying that, adolescence is hardly a period of sexual accomplishment, and Supergrass seem to want to tell us al lthe tricks they have learned in the last 13 years.
They do this primarily by going American. More than half the songs here summon up a nasal bouquet of whisky, stale sweat and the whiff of a wet beard. These songs teem with motels, rough knuckles, shotguns and bad blood. Quite often for these boys from Wheatley, east Oxford, this fantasy world can get a little embarrassing. Gaz Coombes is 32 now, and when he sings about nightclubs, "loving all night long" and "doing 80 with the headlights off" like Jagger's growly heir, sometimes it works (When I Needed You
), sometimes it doesn't (on the one-dimensional 345
). Then again, that's rock and roll in all its toe-curling glory, forever teetering on the edge of excess. Also, given that drummer Danny Goffey used to be part of the Kate Moss celebrity set with his self-proclaimed superstar wife Pearl Lowe (singer with the awful Powder), such carousing might be par for the course. Such are the lives of the brave, rich and free.
This album flourishes properly when it returns to its British roots. Take Rebel In You
, which conforms to the classic Supergrass recipe, mixing up bits of Bowie (Ziggy Stardust
's guitars, Diamond Dogs
' tunefulness, the Philly soul backing vocals of Young Americans
) with some poppy, proggy touches and a bit of pub piano boogie-woogie. The Return Of Inspiration
- a tellign title, that - conjures up the guitar style of The Strokes before anglicising it with telly and newspapers and a Syd Barrett-styled whispery chorus. Ghost Of A Friend
's introduction steals flagrantly from The Kink's Lola
, while its middle-eight stinks of the Stones. All is well until we reach Whisky & Green Tea
, a bizarre colonial tale full of military brass that bringstogether the 13th Floor Elevators, William Burroughs and - boys, think of the children - "little rickshaw girls". As with the spirit and the caffeine of the song title, when Supergrass overindulge, a headache is guaranteed.
But for all these excessive gestures, this is definitely a band on the upturn. Not only have they had the seal of approval from today's indie kings Artic Monkeys, but their new album sounds strangely of the moment. This may be helped by Nick Launay's production, the man responsible forthe Arcade Fire's records, but it also comes down to a new spirit of confidence.
This is underlined best by the record's two final flourishes, Outside
. Only a confident band would put songs this good at the end of their album. Both are bright, brash, and exciting, songs bringing together the combined pop punch of T.Rex, Roxy Music, Sweet, A Clockwork Orange
composer Walter Carlos, Duran Durna and even The Smiths. If those don't sound like tempting treats, you're as woozy as my friend was. And if you do fancy a bite, you dirty devil, get behind me in the queue.
Jude Rogers, The Word Magazine - April 2008