KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

SUPERGRASS Part 2 – Moving To Other Planets

By the time Supergrass released their third album, Supergrass (1999), aka “The X-Ray Album,” they were one of my favorite recording artists. I bought the UK version of the CD since I wasn’t patient enough to wait for the US release (which was probably several weeks later), and they were one of only a handful of artists for whom I was willing to spend extra money on imports. Needless to say I was eager to hear what the trio of Gaz Coombes, Supergrass - Supergrass (X-ray Album)Mick Quinn & Danny Goffey (along with Gaz’s brother Rob, who would soon become a full-fledged band member) would come up with after two nearly flawless albums to start their career. Supergrass might not be quite as exciting as its predecessors, but those were tough acts to follow and album #3 is still a delightful collection of songs that showcased their expanded musical palette and a maturity that might have scared off some fans of their manic early singles. Numerologists would appreciate that this album peaked at #3 on the UK chart while debut I Should Coco reached #1 and sophomore album In It For The Money grabbed the #2 spot. Although the album was a big success in their home country, once again they failed to chart in the US. Whereas previously they were darlings of the UK music press and five of their singles were Top 10 smashes, only three singles were released from Supergrass, with just one cracking the Top 10. Their days of being hitmakers were starting to wane yet their music continued to grow, and it was clear that they still had a blast writing & recording together. Only 3 of this album’s 12 tracks aren’t included in my lists of highlights, proving to me that their quality control remained consistently high, and even the omitted songs are very good.

The Essentials:
♪ “Moving” – The album opens in grand style with this Animals-era Pink Floyd homage, featuring strummed acoustic guitar & synth washes, as Gaz sings, “Moving, just keep moving, till I don’t know what’s saaaaane.” At around the 1:10 mark it shifts to a glam stomper with hand claps & bouncy piano (“Got a low, low feeling around me, and a stone cold feeling inside”). I love the blend of spacey atmosphere and funky groove on this Top 10 hit, one of my favorite Supergrass tunes.

♪ “What Went Wrong (In Your Head)” – Features a bouncy, slightly muted, midtempo groove, and the refrain of “What went wrong in your head…while we slept in our beds?” immediately grabbed me. I also love the Beatle-esque “La la la la la” backing vocals during the chorus. It’s a simple song with the same verse & chorus repeated, but that simplicity is one of its charms. There’s also a very cool bridge: “God save the unstable, they stand alone.”
♪ “Beautiful People” – I can’t put my finger on exactly which song or band I’m reminded of every time I hear the stabbing guitar riff, but it might be a ‘70s glam-era band like Slade or The Sweet. I believe that’s Mick singing the verses with Gaz joining in for the choruses. I like the way it opens up at the end of each verse (“People…people”; “Feel…feel”).
♪ “Mary” – Another song that’s been a favorite since the first time I heard this album. Highlighted by a funky groove, stinging guitar, tasty organ and a slight Latin vibe. It’s super catchy and those harmonized lead vocals (“I got a girl and her name is Mary, I like to shock her on a basis daily”) are simply awesome, as are the “ahh ahh ahh ahh…a-ya-ya” falsetto harmonies. How was this not a massive hit?

♪ “Pumping On Your Stereo” – An instantly catchy danceable rock song with the repeated refrain of “Can you hear us pumping on your stereo?” (apparently they actually sing “humping” here) followed by Gaz’s Bowie homage (circa Diamond Dogs) for “Life is a cigarette, you smoke to the end.” The bridge (“The wider your eyes, the bigger the lies, yes it’s true”) is another great melodic section in a song that’s not as simple as it initially seems. It’s also a giant blast of fun.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Your Love” – What’s not to love when you combine clanking cowbell, a “Lady Madonna”-ish bass line, a memorable guitar motif, a tight rhythm through the verses (“My love is at the window…”) and a splashy chorus (“Well I know I’m gonna look right through you”)? Not quite as great as Supergrass Photo (circa 1999)the essentials listed above, but it’s close.
  • “Shotover Hill” – The combination of pastoral & bombast reminds me of something off of XTC’s Skylarking. I love the pretty acoustic guitar picking and the shift to a subtly propulsive groove in the chorus.
  • “Born Again” – Begins with nearly 2 minutes of moody & brooding instrumental work, as light ride cymbal & chiming guitar play over bubbling organ & synth. When the soft vocals finally arrive (“Whatever you want, it’s alright”) you’re already drawn into the mellow, sensual rhythm. It’s not single material but has a great atmosphere.
  • “Mama & Papa” – This incredibly pretty yet melancholy tune brings the album to a close with a light touch, “Dear Prudence”-y guitars, soft “ooh” vocals and a great hook at the harmonized vocals of “Miss my mummy and I miss my daddy won’t you please bring them back home.”

They returned three years later with their first album of the new millennium, Life On Other Planets (2002). By now Rob Coombes was officially part of the group, but his contributions have always been essential to their sound. I’ve read numerous reviews that consider this a return to form after Supergrass - Life On Other Planetswhat was considered the slight disappointment of Supergrass, but clearly I don’t agree as that album was nearly as vital as the first two. In fact, as much as I enjoy Life On Other Planets, there are fewer timeless songs here than on any of their prior albums. It’s certainly a punchier & more rocking record, with the usual blend of influences that could only be the work of these four musicians, but just a couple of songs stood out as all-time classics while a number of others are “merely” excellent. Don’t get me wrong…I love this album…but it didn’t speak to me in the same way as the three that preceded it. For an alternate viewpoint, I invite you to check out this review from Bruce Jenkins at his excellent Vinyl Connection blog. Apparently my previous post inspired him to revisit some of their albums, and he’s clearly more passionate about Life On Other Planets than I am. We may feel differently about particular Supergrass records but we’re in complete agreement about just how much we love this band.

The Essentials:
♪ “Grace” – A Top 20 single that probably would have been a bigger hit a few years earlier. It’s immediately catchy with pounding piano, ringing guitars and an obvious T. Rex influence (“Well we jumped all night on your trampoline…”), which occurs frequently on this album. There’s also a major hook in the chorus: “Oh Grace, save your money for the children.” Simply Supergrass at their best.

♪ “Run” – This album closer is also the longest song here, at just under 5-1/2 minutes. Begins with a deep synth bed and smooth Abbey Road harmonies (“Heaven had time to grow…lying in the afterglow”). It’s lush, gorgeous & peaceful with a sparse arrangement that recalls 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love,” John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” and various mid-‘70s Beach Boys gems. The vocals end before the 2:00 mark, followed by a Pink Floyd-inspired synth section and a huge guitar solo. It’s massive, epic…the perfect way to wrap up Life On Other Planets.
[Supergrass – “Run”] [audio http://k003.kiwi6.com/hotlink/ww4lf9r8qk/Run.mp3]

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Rush Hour Soul” – Upbeat, manic, driving verses and slightly more mellow (but still propulsive) choruses are highlights of this non-charting single that features great Mick Ronson-inspired guitar lines.
  • “Seen The Light” – Another T. Rex-inspired tune (hand claps & heavily strummed acoustic guitar) that just missed the Top 20. You can hear how much fun they had with this one, especially when Gaz channels Elvis during the third reading of the line, “I’m a rock ‘n’ roll singer in a rock ‘n’ Supergrass Photo (circa 2002)roll band.”
  • “Brecon Beacons” – A very English sounding song that adds a slight ska vibe to their repertoire, bringing to mind Madness or Ian Dury.
  • “Can’t Get Up” – A shaker-driven rhythm with synth squiggles through the verses followed by a catchy chorus: “Well I…can’t get up no more, though I tried…standing in a forest of reason.”
  • “Evening Of The Day” – This was nearly an essential track, but the 1:40 outro of studio vamping brought it down a notch. Otherwise, I love the acoustic skiffle vibe and the affectionate nod to Spinal Tap’s “All The Way Home” in the “If she’s not on that 3:15 then I’m gonna know what sorrow means” refrain. I also love the lilting melody in the verses (“Tis the evening of the da-a-ay”).
  • “La Song” – After a 40-second synth intro they kick into a funky groove with what sounds like a clavinet and Gaz’s slightly distorted vocals. There’s a big hook at “La-la, la-la, la-la, gotta get inside feeling,” and great synth squiggles & squeaks during the brief instrumental section.

For anyone who’s not a completist like me, the compilation Supergrass Is 10 (2004) would likely be the only Supergrass CD you’ll need. At a generous 21 tracks they present all the big hits from their first four albums, with 7 from I Should Coco, 5 from In It For The Money, 3 each from Supergrass and Life On Other Planets, 1 b-side that also appeared on the In It For The Money bonus disc and 2 brand new songs. Only one of those Supergrass - Supergrass Is 10two is worthy of inclusion among their best work, but fortunately it’s an immediate classic that’s worth further discussion below. As an added bonus, initial pressings came with a bonus CD featuring 12 live performances that must have been recorded shortly before the release of Supergrass Is 10 since it opens with the aforementioned new song, “Kiss Of Life.” The track listing of the live disc is weighted heavily towards the first two albums, with 7 songs from those early years; 8 if you count the b-side “Wait For The Sun,” which appears here as part of an acoustic section along with “Late In The Day” and “Caught By The Fuzz,” proving that they were just as electric without electricity. There are plenty of great songs that were left off this compilation, but I would heartily recommend it for anyone new to their music, and the live disc is icing on the cake. Be warned, however, that once you’re hooked you’ll probably want all the individual albums as well.

The Essential “New” Song:
♪ “Kiss Of Life” – Possibly their funkiest song which owes a lot to early-‘80s Talking Heads, specifically “Crosseyed And Painless,” while adding their own unique flourishes. It was a Top 30 hit in the UK but I’m shocked it wasn’t more successful than that. Vocals like “Your love’s like a heart attack” and the Bee Gees-inspired “Yeah!” response are among many reasons why this is such a groovy slab of fun.

For a band with only four studio albums and one compilation during their first decade, I’m still amazed at how consistent they were while traversing such diverse musical terrain. The sheer number of memorable songs in their catalog up to that point surely makes them one of the best bands of their era, and they could give their musical forefathers a run for their money. I’m happy to report that there are still a couple of albums left in their catalog that I haven’t covered, both of which I’ll be revisiting over the next several days along with a one-off side project by two-thirds of Supergrass. All of these will be discussed in my next & final post. Until then, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this “middle period” of their discography.

Supergrass Photo (from Pumping On Your Stereo Video)

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25 comments on “SUPERGRASS Part 2 – Moving To Other Planets

  1. Vinyl Connection
    March 5, 2015

    Works for me, Rich! And the completist in me having been triggered, will be looking out for a copy of ‘Is 10’. As always, enjoyed the connections you made and the lovingly crafted descriptions.
    Thanks for the shout-out and I look forward to part 3.

    Like

    • Bruce, I hope you can find a copy of Supergrass Is 10 with the bonus live CD. If not, it’s still worth it solely for the incredible “Kiss Of Life.” I also highly recommend the DVD set of the same name which I referenced in my first post. I don’t usually care much about promo videos but they did some good ones, and the documentary on the first disc is very enjoyable. That set was the impetus for this series.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Vinyl Connection
        March 5, 2015

        I do have a five track live ep that came with ‘skeleton’ though!

        Like

      • “Skeleton”? I’m stumped. I know there are a number of b-sides and bonus discs I don’t own. This series will likely inspire me to seek out the tracks I’m missing.

        Like

  2. ianbalentine
    March 5, 2015

    On most days I rate Life On Other Planets their best, actually. It’s always between In It For The Money and LOOP. The third album is a fine, fine album but I find it has a good 3 tracks I consistently skip. And even though III didn’t do well here on the official charts I believe it did very well on the college radio charts, but I’m too lazy to do any real research to back that up! And Supergrass is 10 is an amazing compilation album. Hearing these songs back to back makes an excellent case for these guys as the best band from the Britpop era. I’m looking forward to hearing your views on the last two LPs, Rich.

    Like

    • That’s interesting, Ian. As good as the songs are on Life On Other Planets, there aren’t as many standouts for me as there were on previous albums. I prefer some of the subtlety they introduced on the X-ray album, and the high points of that record are as good as anything on the first two. Not that I’m looking to convince you otherwise…we all have our preferences…I’m just glad we share a love for the music these guys have made, and I strongly agree with your suggestion that they were the best band from the Britpop era.

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  3. Brett B.
    March 6, 2015

    This is my favorite era of Supergrass, but I tend to like the middle of things. It’s also when I saw them play live, so I may be favorably biased towards it. Rich, did you see them on the 2002 tour at Irving Plaza?

    Like

    • So Brett, you prefer the meat to the bread when you eat a musical sandwich? Sorry, terrible metaphor, but it’s interesting that you lean toward “the middle of things.” I agree that these albums are probably their most interesting & diverse, although the first two are slightly more consistent from top to bottom. I’ll have to check my ticket stubs, but I’m pretty sure I only saw them once and it was at The Bowery Ballroom on the Supergrass tour in ’99 or ’00.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Brett B.
        March 6, 2015

        I’m curious as to your thoughts on their live performance; I enjoyed them at Irving Plaza immensely but found myself distracted by what I found to be ragged timekeeping by Danny.

        Like

      • I remember being impressed by Danny’s drumming when I saw them. He had the whole “Keith Moon wild-man” thing but he always played what was right for each song. I would have remembered if his timekeeping was off since that usually destroys a concert for me. I’m guessing we saw them at different times.

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  4. J.
    March 7, 2015

    … another great post. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on those last two records. Nice also to see you plan on covering The Hotrats! Great stuff!

    Like

    • Thanks J. Should I assume you’re a fan of the “middle period” covered in this post? I already played the remaining albums once in preparation for my next post. I forgot how interesting they are…especially Road To Rouen. Looking forward to playing them some more in the next several days.

      Like

      • J.
        March 7, 2015

        You bet, yeah. Been listening to all my Supergrass albums since reading the last post, and I completely agree with both yourself and Bruce about the maturity on display with each release.

        Road To Rouen is a pretty special album, isn’t it? I get lost in that one especially.

        Like

      • I need to spend more time with Road To Rouen this week. It might be their most challenging record, but I like how they created their most sprawling music within their shortest album. There’s a lot to digest there and I’ll have a better sense about it after a few more listens.

        Liked by 1 person

      • J.
        March 8, 2015

        “Their most sprawling music within their shortest album” – reckon that statement is spot on.

        Like

      • Thanks J. That popped into my head as soon as I finished listening to it on Friday. I left the remaining Supergrass CDs at my office so I’ll get back to them tomorrow. Can’t wait to play them in the morning.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. stephen1001
    March 7, 2015

    Well said Rich – Supergrass is 10 was my gateway and the rest is history as they say.
    I saw them open for Coldplay on the day of Live 8 in 2005 – they were terrific. I always enjoy those shows where the opener doesn’t feel like a warm up act, the crowd was right into their set as well.
    Agreed – How was Mary not a bigger hit!

    Like

    • Thanks Geoff. It’s good to know that Supergrass Is 10 was your gateway into their world. I can’t imagine hearing it and not wanting to hear more. Did they perform at Live 8 or was that a separate concert on the same day? Hard to believe it’s almost 10 years since that show. I’m still in shock that the four then-living/performing members of Pink Floyd actually played together. More than The Eagles, I thought that would only happen when Hell froze over.

      Glad you agree with me about “Mary.” I wonder if the freaky video kept some potential listeners from giving it a chance.

      Like

      • stephen1001
        March 8, 2015

        They played at a park in Glasgow – it was neat though, as Coldplay played Live 8 in London in the afternoon, then flew back to Glasgow for their previously scheduled show with SG.
        Coldplay was clearly pumped up from doing 2 big shows on one day, they played a great set that night. Chris Martin gave a nice thank you tribute to Supergrass during their set, singing ‘in it for the money’ on top of an instrumental part of one of their songs

        Like

  6. Life on Other Planets was a favourite of mine many years ago, but when I just played it back I tend to agree it hasn’t stood up as well as, say, the second album. Enjoying this series!

    Like

    • Thanks Steve. I know what you mean about Life On Other Planets, although it’s only a slight dip in quality compared to the great albums that came before it. Apparently a lot of people consider it their favorite. At least we’re all in agreement that they’ve got a pretty impressive catalog.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Todd
      March 9, 2015

      I wish I would have written this very post!

      Like

      • Thanks, Todd. Should I assume we feel the same way about these albums? It seems like more fans enjoy Life On Other Planets over the X-ray album but I’m not one of them. They’re both great but the latter is more diverse and has a larger percentage of killer songs.

        Like

  7. Steve
    July 8, 2015

    Good reviews!

    For me, the X-ray album is Supergrass’ best. However, my reasons for liking it seem to be totally different to yours…

    I humbly submit my choices for best tracks:
    – Eon; the section from 1:25 onwards is so beautiful (I mean, Meddle-era Floyd and then some). Pity the track is so short.. and wish I could work out the lyrics.
    – Far Away: builds like a bastard and the payback (“I’ve made up my mind…”) from about 3 minutes in just gets better and better.
    – Jesus Came From Outer Space: that chorus riff always cheers me up.

    For balance, my take on the weakest tracks (and this is all very relative) would include two of your picks – “What Went Wrong (In Your Head)” and “Beautiful People” – as well as “Born Again”, which is the only true duffer here.

    LOOP is a more consistent beast, with more humour but it lacks the highs of “X-ray”. That’s similar to how I feel about “In It For The Money” and “I Should Coco”. Guess I just prefer inconsistency!

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback, Steve. I always love chatting with fellow music lovers, and it’s especially enjoyable when other fans love the same artists/albums for completely different reasons. I’m still not sure if I have a definitively favorite Supergrass album but on any given day it could be the X-Ray album. So we’re definitely on the same page with that one. Great points about the songs you mentioned, and I’m thrilled that you also hear pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd in their music. I’m not sure I had picked up on that when I first got into them in the ’90s, but Floyd’s influence was very obvious when I was putting this series together.

      Cheers!
      Rich

      Like

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