Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
The Britpop era of the 1990’s spawned a number of popular bands like Oasis, Blur, Suede, Pulp, The Verve, Cast and Supergrass. Although each of these groups had their own distinct sound, the common denominator was their shared love of classic ‘60s British pop (The Beatles, The Kinks, The Hollies) and ‘80s indie rock (The Smiths as well as their less-lauded contemporaries). Factor in various headline-grabbing fights in the British tabloids between some of these artists and “Britpop” became an era-defining term which many of them had trouble shaking off as they moved into the new millennium. While some of the aforementioned bands were able to crack the U.S. market, they were most successful in their homeland. I never regarded these bands as part of a musical movement; they were just a bunch of new (or new-to-me) artists who were recording melodic music with a modern, aggressive approach, and that’s all it took for me to become a fan. I was more passionate about some of these bands than others, but Supergrass has always been the pinnacle of that era for me…by a wide margin. I usually focus my blog series on the lesser-played artists in my collection, but I’m making a rare exception here. A few months ago I bought a copy of the Supergrass Is 10 DVD from 2004, which includes all of their promotional videos and a career-spanning documentary (up to that point), and it reminded me (a) how much I love their music and (b) that it’s been nearly a decade since I played most of their albums. I figured it was a good time to share my enthusiasm as I revisit their discography, and after spending the last week with their first two records I couldn’t be more excited.
I still recall the first time I saw their debut. It was part of a care package from a friend at their record label (one of the perks of working in the music industry). Whenever I would receive a box full of CDs, other than discs I specifically requested I would usually play a little bit of each CD to see if it was something I might like, and if it didn’t pique my interest I would either pass it along to another music-loving friend or sell/trade it. Looking at those cartoonish faces on the front cover of I Should Coco (1995), I figured this was a young punk band that would be immediately forgotten, but as each subsequent song played my ears continued to perk up, and by the end of the first listen I knew the album was a keeper. The trio of singer/guitarist Gaz Coombes (only 18 when I Should Coco was recorded), bassist Mick Quinn and drummer Danny Goffey, along with unofficial fourth member (and Gaz’s brother) Rob Coombes on keyboards, combined the melodicism of The Kinks & The Beatles, the ferocious rhythms of The Who, the Anglo-centric vocals of Madness and the punk/pop energy of The Buzzcocks into a musical stew that sounded like no one but themselves. For a group of young men (Quinn was the oldest at 24), they clearly devoured a lot of music in their youth, and they delivered a nearly perfect album to kick-start their career. Of the 13 tracks here, all but one are included in my lists of Essential & Notable tracks below. Only “We’re Not Supposed To” was left off. It’s a fun track, but with the speeded-up vocals & silly atmosphere, it’s not far off from David Bowie’s early novelty song, “The Laughing Gnome.” Otherwise, it’s hard to ignore the onslaught of one great song after another.
♪ “I’d Like To Know” – The first of four consecutive killer tracks to start the album. Rolling drums, chugging bass, Farfisa(?) organ, sneering vocals and great “ooooh, la la la la” backing vocals. I love the bright, open chorus (“I’d like to know where all the strange ones go”) and the slow, descending middle section.
♪ “Caught By The Fuzz” – Their debut single which just missed the UK Top 40. Splashy drums, slightly distorted vocals and great dynamics (claustrophobic verses and bright choruses). This level of subtlety is not something you usually hear from such young musicians. Has a similar energy to Green Day’s earliest hits.
♪ “Mansize Rooster” – Their first Top 20 single; a fun Kinks/Madness hybrid. Stomping verses with plinking piano, and the rhythm section is on fire. Huge melodic hooks at “Why you looking so crazy, why you looking so lonely for love?” and “How would you know if you never, ever saw me?”
♪ “Alright” – Their third single and biggest hit, reaching #2 on the UK singles chart. Features barrelhouse piano, a driving rhythm, a peppy melody and upbeat, fun lyrics (“We are young, we run free, keep our teeth nice & clean, see our friends, see the sights, feel alright”). There’s a cool driving rock ‘n’ roll vibe during the instrumental section followed by a tasteful melodic guitar solo.
♪ “Lenny” – Another Top 10 single, this one starting off with heavy repetitive bass on the up-beat through the intro. Quinn delivers an impressive, fluid, John Entwistle-esque bass line, and I love the lyrical hook at “I’ve been around and around but I got nowhere to go now.”
♪ “She’s So Loose” – This one has more of an acoustic feel while retaining the propulsive rhythm of the majority of the other songs here. I love Gaz’s soaring vocals at “Take…my…love…away” and the slowed-down tempo for the three-word chorus.
♪ “Time” – Part of a double A-side single with “Alright.” There’s a tight, midtempo semi-shuffle groove and I like the way he draws out certain words, i.e. “The tiiiiime” and “I knoooow.” This is a simple song with a catchy hook at “Yeah I know what I, I see, have it all you,” and I enjoy the subtle harmonica accents.
♪ “Time To Go” – One of my all-time favorite album closers; a short (under 2 minutes), slow, bouncy, simple acoustic tune that hints at an early-‘70s Pink Floyd influence. There’s an end-of-the-party feeling when he sings, “Thanks to everyone for everything you’ve done but now it’s time to go,” and I’ve always loved his inflection at “Who could ask for more?”
Other Notable Tracks:
They avoided the sophomore slump with In It For The Money (1997), charting just one notch lower than the top spot reached by its predecessor and featuring four Top 20 singles (three in the Top 10). At this point they were one of the biggest bands in the U.K. and even though they didn’t have the same impact on the other side of the Atlantic their following here continued to grow. The initial U.S. edition came with a 9-track bonus disc that included acoustic & alternate mixes of two songs from the debut along with several b-sides that most Americans wouldn’t have heard before. The hit-to-miss ratio might be slightly lower than it was on I Should Coco, but that was always going to be a tough act to follow, and most of the songs would sit comfortably on a career-spanning anthology (with at least six of them being instant classics). Musically & lyrically they’re a little more diverse & mature, and the mood is slightly darker, but it’s still a fun, youthful collection that confirmed their place among the best artists of their era, Britpop or otherwise.
♪ “In It For The Money” – An eerie organ intro gives way to dark yet jangly guitar and slowly building drums. There’s a repetitive beat as they repeat the title over & over, then it opens up at “Got my mind made up, I got my finger on the button going waaaay home.” The melodies are deceptively complex, and I like the addition of horns to the mix.
♪ “Richard III” – The second single from the album which matched the #2 chart success of “Alright.” Rumbling drums & bass make way for a brighter, driving, riff-heavy groove. I love the falsetto “ooooh”s and the fantastic hooks at “I know you wanna try to get away but it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever know.” There’s a simple synth melody that sounds like a Theremin at the repeated “Tryin’ to get at you” refrain.
♪ “Late In The Day” – The final single released from the album, and another Top 20 hit. After strummed acoustic guitar and Gaz’s high vocals in the intro, the band kicks in with a slow, loping disco rhythm at around 1:00 (“All the time I thought of you in an ordinary way”). My favorite parts are the Floyd-influenced Moog synth section and Gaz’s simple, melodic, crunchy guitar solo.
♪ “Sun Hits The Sky” – The longest song at just under 5 minutes and another Top 10 single, featuring a great riff and a driving, pulsing rhythm. There are two distinct melodies: (1) “I know a place where the sun hits the sky…” and (2) “I am a doctor, I’ll be your doctor, I’m on my way…” Rob Coombes comes up with a cool squiggly synth break, and there’s a great alternating 1-2, 1-2 instrumental section.
♪ “Going Out” – Simple lyrics and an instantly catchy melody made this an excellent choice for leadoff single, and British record-buyers agreed when it reached the Top 5. It begins with a circus-like droning organ and picks up with a splashy midtempo rhythm. I like the juxtaposition of “If you want to go out…read it in the papers, tell me what it’s all about” and the slower “Oh no, oh no” section.
♪ “It’s Not Me” – Another Pink Floyd-influenced track, this semi-unplugged tune is carried along by pleasantly strummed acoustic guitar, piano, sparse percussion and flanged electric guitar. It’s simply gorgeous from start to finish, especially the chorus: “It’s not me, no no not me, but I don’t know what is.”
Other Notable Tracks:
Notable Tracks On Bonus Disc:
I already knew I loved both of these albums before revisiting them for the first time in nearly a decade last week, but somehow I’m even more of a fan now. I was pleased to discover the recurring Pink Floyd influence in so many of their songs, which I don’t think I had previously picked up on. I’m eager to spend time with the next few albums this coming week, and I look forward to sharing my (re)discoveries with you in my next post. Until then, I’d love to hear from anyone who enjoys their music, whether you’ve collected their entire catalog or only know them via their hit singles or a compilation. Thanks.