Is Anybody Listening?

Wouldn’t the world would be a better place had some overrated artists never existed at all? And wouldn’t the world be a better place as well had some of our beloved, undervalued artists taken the place of the former?

Bands like: Supergrass

Supergrass was nothing if not consistent. Since 1995, the height of Britpop, the guys in Supergrass have put out a string of great and really great albums, yet they continue to go unheralded but by a few of us ubber-fans. The difference between Supergrass and, say, Oasis, during this time was their utter lack of pretension, superior musical skill and a total obliviousness to what was/is considered ‘cool’.

Their music contained echoes of Madness, The Sex Pistols, Supertramp, The Stones/Beatles, Kinks, even The Band and Dylan to a degree, and even a smidgeon of Big Star and The Monkees. They didn’t bow at the alter of one particular genre and never gave a damn about trends. That wasn’t a very popular stance as far as the NME and Melody Maker was concerned, and the music mags ignored them after the first release. It was like they were unofficially blacklisted from the music press because of it.
By contrast, Blur were trying to re-invent the serious and very English character studies of Ray Davies, Oasis were all faux snarls and Beatle-barons, The Happy Mondays were now defunct football hooligans with heroin habits. But The ‘Grass were just plain fun, idly side stepping the trappings of fame with gusto and conviction. Case in point: Steven Spielberg famously offered the three boys the chance to star in their very own Monkees style TV show, reportedly for a boatload of cash, which they promptly and smartly declined. The ‘Grass burst onto the scene with one of the most exciting albums of 1995. Picture the Buzzcocks, The Kinks and Madness blended together with a dash of swagger from the Rolling Stones and you should get an idea of the eclecticism of I Should Coco. The British music press praised the album as one of the best of the year, and unlike most of their predictions they actually got this one right. There were two stand-out singles although all 13 songs could have been released as such. The break neck punk-pop of Caught By The Fuzz which gloriously steals the riff from God Save The Queen  is 2:16 of pure adrenaline and great fun. The second, and the one to reach the highest in the charts, was Alright. Using a Madness inspired keyboard riff it bounces along like the best singles do, and the chorus is as contagious as the swine flu. Considering that I Should Coco was their debut makes the feat all that more impressive. (4.5 out of 5)

They followed up the debut with one of the finest albums of the 90’s, the Zappa aping In It For The Money. I.I.F.T.M is a big album that is comprised of a veritable cornucopia of genre exercises and musical abandon. You would think that an album this schizophrenic wouldn’t work, but it does, wonderfully. From the psychedelic title track to the adrenalin rush of Richard III and Sun Hits the Sky, to the introspective and beautiful Late In The Day, this album blows away that great English tradition of following up a great debut album with a sub par sophomore effort. “We’re in it for the money/ We’re in it for the money/ We’re in it for the money…” And so starts one of the great sophomore releases in recent history and one damn fine album. In It For The Money delves deep into more psychedelic territory, and although the tempo is less frantic than the debut the songs remain stellar. “Late In The Day”, Sun Hits The Sky” and “Richard III” are standouts, and the sonics of this album are a little more cohesive and tied together. Their influences are becoming a little more difficult to spot as well. (5 out of 5)

Some say they stumbled slightly with 1999’s self titled long player, but it still contained some amazingly fine songs in Jesus Came From Outer Space, Mary and the classic College fave Pumpin’ On Your Stereo. With me it ranks right up there with their best, fluctuating between 2nd and 3ed.

Life On Other Planets was a great album and one of my personal favorites, although by this time I think I was the only one in the States listening. It’s a shame, ’cause LOOP is one helluva fine LP full of their patented power pop pleasures. Hooks and harmonies abound here, and the ‘Grass have their energy back, which is a good thing indeed. Allmusic makes an interesting point when reviewing this album: “Since they’ve been away for a while and have never broken in the States, Supergrass has been curiously overlooked, even though they’re better than 99 percent of the power pop and punk-pop bands out there (plus, their everything-old-is-new-again aesthetic can be heard in such albums as the Strokes Is This It?). But, as this glorious record proves, there are few bands around these days who are as flat-out enjoyable as this trio. The world is a better place for having Supergrass in it.” Newcomers to Supergrass would do well to start here. (4.5 out of 5)

They followed with the subdued but effective and “punningly” titled Road To Rouen. It’s a slight but focused 35 minutes and was the bands most musically cohesive project to date. Cohesive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great album, but it sure ain’t bad, and ‘just ok’ Supergrass is better than most bands career peaks (other than The Super Furry Animals). Look as far as Coffee In The Pot, a jaunty (can’t believe I just used that word!). Kick In The Teeth and the title track prove they can still rock, but the real stand out for me is the epic Tales Of Endurance Pts. 4,5 and 6. My only complaint: It’s too damn short at just a little over 35 minutes.

Diamond Hoo Ha Man, their last before calling it a day, sounds like a band running out of steam, and the newly initiated shouldn’t start here. It starts off as energetic and as hook filled as their first two albums, but losing considerable steam near the end. But I’ll tell you that the White Stripes send-up “Diamond Hoo Ha Man” is worth the $10 investment alone. So, it’s an average Supergrass album which, as Allmusic stated above, is better than 99% of the stuff being released anyway. 3.5 out of 5

Supergrass were that rarest of mid-90’s British bands inasmuch as they released more than two decent albums, lasted longer than a decade, and didn’t suck. They’re records still hold up, especially IIFTM, LOOP and the self-titled 3rd effort.