AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #142 : SUPERGRASS

One of the many great singles released by Supergrass emerged out of nowhere the other day, courtesy of i-pod random shuffle. It got me thinking that while they are a group I haven’t listened to in much detail for about ten years now, theirs was a career than more than merits a stab at an ICA. I’ll warn you now though, this is one that leans very heavily on singles….they did after all release 26 of them over a fourteen-year period.

SIDE A

1. Caught By The Fuzz (debut single, 1994 and I Should Coco LP, 1995)

This vibrant, catchy and fast-paced ditty, detailing the story of Gaz Coombes’ run in with the law for possession of cannabis at the age of 15, might well have been the debut appearance of Supergrass but two-thirds of the band were already veterans of the local music scene in Oxford.

Gaz, together with drummer Danny Coffey had been part of The Jennifers who had been signed by Nude Records in 1992. Only one single was released before the band fell out with the label and split-up. Gaz and Danny hooked up with bassist Mick Quinn to form Supergrass in February 1993 at which point in time Gaz was one month shy of his 17th birthday, Danny was 19 and Mick was positively ancient at 22.

The debut came out on local label Backbeat Records; one of its early champions was John Peel and the song was a hit with his listeners who voted it in at #5 in the Festive Fifty rundown of 1994. The attention that it, and follow-up single Manzsize Rooster, brought on the band led to them being courted by a number of major labels with them deciding to sign to Parlophone Records with who they would go on to record for the next fourteen years.

This was the song that popped up on the i-phone and I thought immediately that it should be part of the debut singles series that I’ve just got going, but as I said, further thoughts led to this ICA.

2. Alright (I Should Coco LP; single, 1995)

This, along with Common People by Pulp, is the song I most associate with the rise of Britpop.

It’s a song that really could only have been written by a young, carefree and happy songwriter, celebrating the fact that he is young, carefree and happy. It’s actually quite hard to imagine that it lay ‘unrecognised’ on the album for so long – it was the fifth and final single to be lifted from I Should Coco, but then again I suppose timing was everything. It came out in July 1995 and such a rousing and anthemic number was tailor-made for the summer. There will be millions of folk out there in this world whose holiday memories of that particular year will include a drunken sing-a-long at some location or other.

It’s often the case that over-exposure to a tune can make a listener grow sick and tired of it. Alright hung around the charts gaining airplay for months on end, as well as having a brilliant, funny and memorable video that was on heavy rotation, but somehow avoided every becoming annoying. Still great to listen to all these years later, albeit I can’t imagine its one that Gaz is comfortable playing these days now he’d middle-aged.

3. Grace (single; Life On Other Planets LP 2002)

One of things that gives Alright such a memorable hook is the piano part which was played by Rob Coombes, older brother of the band’s frontman. Indeed, Rob’s contributions in the studio and on-stage were always an essential part of the band’s sound but it wasn’t until the release of the time of the release of Life On Other Planets, their fourth album in 2002, that he officially became the fourth member.

It was long-overdue recognition but it did run the risk of perhaps turning the band into just another plodding four-piece going through the motions, especially given that their LP, released in 1999, had been a bit of a let-down to many, (despite harvesting a couple of excellent 45s). Nothing had been heard of the band for the best part of three years until a deliberately low-key and very limited edition 7” single, Never Done Anything Like That Before, was issued in July 2002 that came and went before most folk knew the band were back. As such, Grace was the comeback songs in advance of the new LP. It proved to be a superb return to form, allaying any fears of them becoming as dull, plodding and irrelevant as so many of their peers from the Britpop era.

4. Jesus Came From Outta Space (from Supergrass LP 1999)

It’s not that Supergrass was a poor album but it did have the unenviable task of following up two of the best received LPs released that decade. I’m a huge fan of the single Pumping On Your Stereo and it was a candidate to open up Side 2 of this ICA, but in the end it didn’t even make the cut. Certain things just had to give to accommodate other memorable pieces of music, not least this album track that is a wonderful blend of Blur, Violent Femmes and Super Furry Animals and yet is still recognisably 100% Gaz & co. A lyric that can be interpreted in a number of ways, I don’t see it as an attack on religion as such but it does such suggest that nobody should listen to fundamentalists or zealots. Would have made for a great single but would have likely suffered from a lack of airplay as cautious/conservative radio bosses would fear a backlash.

5. Low C (Road to Rouen LP; single, 2005)

The music on Road to Rouen is a very long way removed from the carefree attitude of the band’s origins and it does have the feel of the work of middle-aged musicians which is strange as Supergrass consisted of men who were in their late 20s or early 30s and still of a an age where fun was there to be had and recovery times from having such fun should be short.

It was a few years later, in the promotional activities around the next album, that Mick Quinn revealed the introspective nature of Road to Rouen was related to the death of Gaz and Rob’s mum, as well as the tensions in the band around Danny Goffey recovering after an extended period in which his life had somewhat spiralled out of control, thanks to him being part of a socially hedonistic London-based scene that revolved around people who were of huge interest to the UK tabloid newspapers – model Kate Moss and singer Liam Gallacher being prime examples. The music, and the lyrics, were inevitable given the sombre and serious place everyone found themselves in. It’s an album of just nine songs, none of which were obvious singles and yet it contains some of their finest work. There’s more to come on Side B…..

SIDE B

1. Richard III (single; In It For The Money LP, 1997)

The momentum from the debut album was maintained in early 1996 by the release of the single Going Out, a song that was, without any question, a sideways swipe at Danny Goffey who was just beginning to show signs of enjoying life a bit too much and not wanting to contribute to the band.

It took a year before anything else was released, but it was well worth it thanks to this near hard-rock production that I’m sure had a big influence on Matt Bellamy as he tried to work out where to position his band, Muse. It’s an absolute belter of a pop/rock hybrid in which the drummer was given his place to show how important he was to them. Worth mentioning that the name of the song comes from its working title in which all the new tunes were given people’s names. This just happened to be the third song called Richard and has nothing to do with the real-life kings and the famous play by Shakespeare.

2. Moving (single, Supergrass LP, 1999)

This was the 45 released on the eve of the third album. The glam-rock influenced and slightly silly but hugely enjoyable Pumping On Your Stereo had already been a hit earlier in the summer and most folk were probably expecting something similar as the follow-up. Once again, Supergrass did the unexpected with a mid-tempo, sad sounding number that is a commentary on how tedious, dull and repetitive life as musician out on the road could be. It was hardly an original topic for a songwriter to turn their attention to, but it’s done here in such a clever way, with the melancholy verses always giving way to a foot-stomping and catchy chorus that in a sense, is a guarantee of future success and further condemning the band to more time out there belting it out from stages the world over.

3. Diamond Hoo Ha Man (single, Diamond Hoo Ha LP, 2008)

The final Supergrass songs came and went without much fanfare in 2008. This was initially as much to do with the band releasing the first single via just a limited edition 7” vinyl single and latterly from the record label not wanting to spend too much in promotion. It was a sad and bitter end to what had been a long and successful involvement with Parlophone Records – it wasn’t actually supposed to be the band’s final album as come 2010 they were set to get going again, with indie label Cooking Vinyl announced as their new home. This single, the first new music since the downbeat and melancholy material found on Road to Rouen, was a very welcome return to the dynamic sounds of yesteryear. The pity is that much of the rest of the subsequent album didn’t match it.

4. Mansize Rooster (single, 1994 and I Should Coco LP, 1995)

And so the ICA goes from near the very end all the way back to the near beginning. It’s a great indication of what was to follow and listening again, more than two decades on, it’s no real surprise given the quality of this, the band’s second single, and their debut (as featured at outset of this ICA), that so many labels wanted to sign them and so many music lovers were quick to pledge their allegiance. Just don’t ask me to try to offer any logical explanation as to what Mansize Rooster is all about. Just enjoy the tune. And just enjoy how brilliant Supergrass were. All that’s left to say is this…………

5. Fin (Road to Rouen LP; single, 2005)

Sigh.

JC

9 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #142 : SUPERGRASS

  1. The thing that struck me about Supergrass around 1997 was that they had a chemistry together. They looked like they could just play all day, effortlessly. Hard to put together a short ‘best of’ but Sun Hits The Sky should be there somewhere.

  2. I loved the first four Supergrass albums, even the self-titled one that as you state wasn’t so well-received. Road to Rouen was very disappointing though and the last album had some good moments, but really wasn’t on a par with the earlier stuff.

    One little story about Richard III: back in the 90s I worked with a band from Devon called Naked i. They were heavily influenced by the likes of Fugazi and Husker Du. They were beginning to get noticed by labels and the music press, even getting two reviews in the same edition of NME one week!

    When I first heard Richard III, I thought it sounded like a Naked i rip-off. The chorus was undeniably Supergrass, but that intro and the verses could well have been written by my mates. Evidently, Naked i felt the same way. Two of the guys had a side-project, a “pub band” called Desperate Men with a couple of members of other local bands. They played exclusively covers, but in a heavy, punk-influenced style. Just after Richard III had been a hit, they included it in their set. Some people actually thought it was one of their own self-penned tunes. I still think of Naked i whenever I hear that song.

  3. They were a great singles band – never recorded an absolute belter of an album – I’d have to find a place for Sun Hits The Sky, Late In The Day, Lose It and Going Out on my ICA…

    But thanks I’ve just disappeared down a YouTube hole – listening to Supergrass – I haven’t listened to them in years either!

  4. Nice one JC. Good to hear positive words about ‘Road to Rouen’, an album I remain very fond of. I have no idea what I would pull from your ICA in order to find a space for them, but ‘Sun Hits The Sky’ and ‘Late In The Day’ would be strong contenders in a similar list of my own.

  5. This prompted me to see how many Diamond Hoo Ha tracks I had in my iTunes – none, it would seem. I now have a horrible feeling that I lent my copy almost straight after purchase to a mate who was in hospital at the time and I probably only ever played it in the car on the way to visit him. Wonder if he’ll let me borrow it some time?

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