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Supergrass – In It for the Money
THIS is a feature that recommends albums…
that sound perfect when you buy them on vinyl and let a record player bring the glorious grooves to life. It may sound odd, you’d think, to include Supergrass’ In It for the Money in that category. The album is only twenty-one-years-old but, in my mind, it is a modern classic. I am a huge fan of the band and was sad to see them split after Diamond Hoo Ha (to be fair, a stupid name for an album!). In 1997, after the success of their debut, NME were ready to call In It for the Money “More fun than watching a wombat in a washing machine”. Whilst that imagery seems cruel to the point of calling in the authorities; it does provoke a certain smile! I was alive and bonding with music when Supergrass released their debut, I Should Coco. In a year where Blur and Oasis were battling it out for chart supremacy; Supergrass came into Britpop with their own brand – something that sat outside the camps of Blur and Oasis. Recorded in Cornwall, two years after the band started life together, it was an instant hit and resonated with critics. That early success, in some part, would have been down to the incredible success of Alright – a song that not only soundtracked the summer but seemed to define the generation.
The bands influenced – Buzzcocks, The Jam and The Kinks – can be heard in the album’s best moments. From the stomp of Mansize Rooster to the stabbed and nervy guitars of Lenny – it is a packed and explosive album with so much invention and life. Although it is a top-heavy album – all five of its singles are included in the opening six songs – there is plenty to recommend in the closing half. It gets trippier and more mind-bending when you reach songs like She’s So Loose and We’re Not Supposed To: an album of two halves that sits together wonderfully. The three-chord, fun songs that went into their debut sat nicely with the signs of the time. Oasis had their sophomore release whilst Blur were entering a new phase of their career post-Parklife. It was a competitive and exciting time in British music – Supergrass were the new boys and, as such, could have easily mimicked what was at the forefront. After I Should Coco scored big and gained legions of fans; the band could have traded off the songs and toured for many years. There was pressure to follow up on their debut and, in the process, keep their sound true. In It for the Money, in 1997, if you compare it with what was happening with Blur and Oasis seemed to carry on their work.
Both bands were changing (Oasis less successful than before; Blur embracing U.S. Rock and getting darker) and Supergrass were thinking about their own sound. Whilst there are similarities between the two albums; In It for the Money is a more confidence and daring album than the debut. One might think they’d embrace a darker and more adult sound but, if anything, there is even more fun and juvenile energy than I Should Coco. Supergrass had disruptions and problems when recording. Sessions were interrupted with their drummer Danny Goffey going back to London – they recorded in Sawmill Studios, Cornwall – to play with his and Pearl Lowe’s band Lodger caused some problems. Supergrass' management was unhappy and told Goffey it was unacceptable. Gaz Coombes, Supergrass’ lead, and Goffey were arguing in the press regarding the lyrical meanings behind In It for the Money’s standout (in my mind) track, Going Out – whether press intrusion and privacy inspired the words. Only two songs were written prior to entering the studio and the band spent an age coming up with the album’s title – the final decision might have been a cheeky nod to their status and what they were in music for! Early tensions and delays could/should have ground things to a halt. If anything, that sort of energy motivated the band to produce something close to a masterpiece!
In It for the Money is slightly less top-heavy than the debut and starts and ends with bigger bangs. In It for the Money and Richard III are perfect one-twos that get you invested and prove their debut album was no fluke – the latter became a big hit and was always destined for singalong festival crowds. Those looking for a similarly-gleeful Alright found plenty to love in songs like Tonight and Going Out. Tonight has that party atmosphere and seems to burst from the speakers. Few bands would have been bold enough to add a variety of instruments into the traditional guitars-bass-drum set-up. Tonight sees horns parping; organs can be heard on Going On – Late in the Day has acoustic guitar; piano can be heard in other moments. The album’s opening trio of songs gets the mood up and seems to set up the party. Late in the Day, track-four, comes after-dark and is the young band showing maturity and tenderness. It is a beautiful number that showed the range and sense of flexibility the band were employing in their work. From there, it is on with a new day and plenty of fun! Going On is a pure Beatles-esque blast of imagination. It has big horns and organs; the chorus is catchy and the lyrics cryptic – you’d have to ask Gaz Coombes to see what the true meaning is!
Later songs like Cheapskate and Hollow Little Reign are minor hits but show the band were not all about punchy songs designed for summer raves and parties. Supergrass could have displayed a boyish charm and rebellious sense of mischief and won plenty of hearts that way. Even on their opening two albums, they were keen to show they were more than style and the sort of glee Alright sported. With fewer weaker turns and bigger performances from the band; In It for the Money was a huge success and outsold I Should Coco (Gaz Coombes, you’d imagine with tongue slightly in cheek, said it meant the band could sleep at night!). The guys would follow In It for the Money with their eponymous L.P. in 1999 – another creative turn that did not impress the critics as much; little of the energy that we saw on the first two albums – and had the public on-board. The depths and qualities of the record are perfectly distilled in a review from AllMusic:
“On its second album, the cleverly titled In It for the Money, Supergrass brought the songs to the forefront, slowing the tempos considerably and constructing a varied, textured album that makes the band's ambition and skill abundantly clear. From the droning mantra of the opening title track, it's clear that the band has delved deeply into psychedelia, and hints of Magical Mystery Tour are evident throughout the album, from swirling organs and gurgling wah-wahs to punchy horn charts and human beatboxes. In fact, Supergrass has substituted the punky rush of I Should Coco for such sonic details, and while that means the band only occasionally touches upon the breakneck pace of its debut (the hard-driving "Richard III"), it also deepens its joyful exuberance with subtle songs and remarkably accomplished musicianship. There might not be a "Caught by the Fuzz" or "Alright" on In It for the Money, but that's not a problem, since the bright explosion of "Sun Hits the Sky" and the nervy "Tonight" are just as energetic, and the album features introspective numbers like the gorgeous "Late in the Day" and "It's Not Me" that give it substantial weight”.
The reason I love In It for the Money is (because it) was a brilliant revelation back in 1997: in 2018, we mourn the loss of Supergrass but find new layers to enjoy in the band’s sophomore record. I am including it in my Vinyl Corner feature because it gains new energy and wonder when you hear it on a record player. Drop the vinyl on and get some good speakers. Lay back and close your eyes…let all the music wash over you and bask in the glories of Supergrass. Oddly, all that bristling tension and management dissatisfaction seem to come out in some of the songs. You picture the band recording and the kind of mood at various moments. However you view the album and whatever significance it holds to you; it is worth exploring it with new eyes now. Some albums from the 1990s have not dated and seem a little out-of-step in today’s market. Supergrass’ second album not only defines the times back then but seems to sit perfectly comfortable in the here and now. I feel more band should take guidance from In It for the Money. It seems rather sad to think we might never see anyone with the talent and personalities of Supergrass in music. If new acts can take strands from Supergrass’ finest album and work it into their own material, it would make music so much more interesting. I will leave things there – because I am keen to get back to the album! – but would recommend everyone get In It for the Money on vinyl, find forty-three spare minutes and…
LET it do its work.