Sitting Up Straight
IN THIS PHOTO: Supergrass are in no mood to slow down this year/PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Oxley
Past Glories and Future Promise: The Return of Supergrass
I don’t know about you…
but I always get a bit tense when a band announces they are reforming after a time apart. For years and years we have seen popular bands return, and there are few reunions that actually get you pumped. One always wonders why they do it and, when it doesn’t work, you are left disappointed. The Spice Girls recently reformed and are playing gigs together and it seems like new material is a long way off. Even if they do get into the studio, the work they produce now will be miles away from their early, Girl Power stuff – and one wonders whether anyone would want a more mature and less exciting band. The same could be said of Supergrass. I will talk about their debut, I Should Coco, in a bit but, when thinking about this epic band, this sense of fun and energy defines their best work. They are a band who I could see recapturing (to a degree) their classic sound if they stepped back into the studio. They played in London on 9th September and, in 2020, they will perform some more dates. There is also a career-spanning box-set on the cards and it is an exciting time. In this article, we learn more about Supergrass’ plans:
“After reuniting for a surprise show this past Friday (September 6), Supergrass have announced an official reunion tour and a new greatest hits collection. The Gaz Coombes-fronted group will release Supergrass: The Strange Ones 1994 - 2008 on January 24, 2020, via BMG. The deluxe box set, which arrives nearly 25 years after the band’s debut I Should Coco, includes the band’s six albums, as well as bonus CDs with unreleased live material, B-sides, remixes, rarities, demos, and more. The Strange Ones also features unreleased tracks, including the band’s cover of the Police’s “Next to You,” which you can hear below.
In an interview with Andrew Trendell for NME, Gaz Coombes said, “We’ve been talking about it for a while. I remember talking to Danny about on the phone maybe a year ago. We knew that 2020 was coming up and that would make it 25 years since the beginning and 10 years since the split.” He added, “We just wanted to play and see what happens. It felt great”
I can understand why Gaz Coombes, Danny Goffey; Mick Quinn and Rob Coombes want to play again: they sort of vowed not to after their ‘last’ gig in 2010 but, as time has passed, perhaps some issues have been laid to rest. In this interview with The Times, the band talked about their early gigs and, indeed, whether there were tensions that led to their hiatus:
“Back to eating one’s words, though. Gaz says he was “half right, half wrong” when he gave those quotes. “The cashing-in thing isn’t important — it’s not necessarily about that,” he explains. “This just feels like the right time, whereas three, four years ago, it didn’t. Eight years ago, it didn’t. However, if we didn’t reform for 2020, I wasn’t sure it would ever happen.”
“It’s going to be really fun to play all the songs again,” Goffey says, beaming, summing up the band’s return. “We have such good memories of playing them in different countries. Also, we’ve had 10 years off, so we remember all the good times, when crowds were going mad, rather than bits that were a pain in the arse.”
“Those early American tours shaped me in a powerful way,” Gaz says when I ask for his fondest memories. “They certainly shaped your clothes sense,” Goffey interrupts. Gaz laughs. “My wife came to visit in San Francisco after two and a half weeks of me being away,” he says. “I’d put weight on and was dressed like a stoned golfer. She was, like, ‘Who are you?’ But those tours were incredible — bombing it around the country... I remember songs soaring across a big field…
Goffey sighs. “Maybe we were a bit burnt out and needed a break.”
Were there blazing rows? “Brooding rows,” Goffey says quietly. Gaz adds: “I just remember not enjoying going into the studio, which is heartbreaking.” His brother takes it up a notch: “I drove two hours to the sessions. By the time I got to the studio, I was spent.” Goffey frowns. “I lay in bed drawing dark pictures in my notepad,” he says, and it doesn’t feel like a joke. “Really strange, violent pictures.” Gaz looks at him. “You should’ve called”.
I hope the band can remain together for a long time and, who knows, they might be back in the studio! They are saying, at the moment, they are touring and there are no immediate plans to record. I do hope we see more than reunion gigs because, looking back, Supergrass have soundtrack many of our lives. My first exposure to them, like many, was their incredible 1995 debut, I Should Coco.
Whilst I am a bigger fan of their 1997 follow-up, In It for the Money, I Should Coco is an extraordinary work. The sheer infectiousness of the band added gold and unique edge to the Britpop scene of 1995. Maybe they see themselves as being outside that circle - but one cannot deny the care-free attitude of the album; the quality of the tunes and the chemistry in the band. One is blown away by the vitality, energy and catchiness of I Should Coco. In this review from AllMusic, they talk about the energy of the album:
“Tearing by at a breakneck speed, I Should Coco is a spectacularly eclectic debut by Supergrass, a trio barely out of their teens. Sure, the unbridled energy of the album illustrates that the band is young, yet what really illustrates how young the bandmembers are is how they borrow from their predecessors. Supergrass treat the Buzzcocks, the Beatles, Elton John, David Bowie, Blur, and Madness as if they were all the same thing -- they don't make any distinction between what is cool and what isn't, they just throw everything together. Consequently, the jittery "Caught by the Fuzz" slams next to the music hall rave-up "Mansize Rooster," the trippy psychedelia of "Sofa (Of My Lethargy)," the heavy stomp of "Lenny," and the bona fide teen anthem "Alright." I Should Coco is the sound of adolescence, but performed with a surprising musical versatility that makes the record's exuberant energy all the more infectious”.
That album turns twenty-five next year, and it will be great to see it celebrated. Two Supergrass albums stand out to me: In it for the Money and 1999’s Supergrass. The former was a confident follow-up to their amazing debut. There was a lot of pressure and expectation on the band in 1997 and, although Britpop was dying away, Supergrass responded with an album that is as mature and layered as it is free and alive. I prefer In It for the Money because the songs remain longer and hit harder. Richard III has that great build-up and release; a raucous chorus and an afterglow that lasts for ages. Tonight is insatiable and swaggering whereas Going Out nods eschewing nightlife and not submitting to the party lifestyle. That track is my favourite of theirs and, with its Beatles touches and incredible sound, it shows what a varied album In It for the Money is! I was in high-school when that album came out and, like so many classic albums of the day, it was shared among friends; we dissected them and bonded over these diamond tunes. Late in the Day and It’s Not Me showed new angles to the band. This was a young and popular group, but they were not relying on a single tone or emotion. They were deep and reflective, too. I cannot get enough of In It for the Money and, as the bands return to the stage after so long, the chance to hear songs from that album…I will have to get myself along in 2020!
I will wrap things up but, before doing so, I want to bring in the band’s third album. If some artists have a ‘difficult second album’, Supergrass had this problem with their third. The feel is calmer than their first two and, after touring so much and with the music scene changed vastly in the four years since their debut, Supergrass is a more complex and settled affair. There are some filler tracks – Born Again, Mama & Papa – but I actually like the fact they embraced something darker here. Your Love and Mary are intense and sounds very different to stuff on I Should Coco. Moving talks about the turbulence and constant stop-start of touring, whereas Shotover Hill and Eon allowed the band to expand, elongate and create something more elegant and expansive. Jesus Came from Outta Space and Pumping on Your Stereo retain that cheekiness and raw spirit but, on the whole, Supergrass is a more challenging album. Reviews were a little less positive than on previous outings. I think the negativity is unfair because, as Select write, Supergrass has many brilliant moments:
“But the alternating stomping and strings of opener 'Moving' have already signalled amplified ambitions which are then fulfilled by 'Shotover Hill' and the less familiar searching moods of 'Eon'. With drums booming regally and guitars spiralling vacantly like early-'70s Pink Floyd (an influence reprised on the dreamscape ballad 'Born Again' and the Syd Barret-esque 'Far Away'), this is Supergrass in full widescreen effect.
The embracing of orchestras and prog might be the stuff of Proper Rock cliche, but there's no sign of leaden hoariness here. Indeed, their revelling in freaky new sounds as ends in themselves puts Supergrass close to dance music's more edgy innovators.
Despite its relaxed, reefer-led moments, 'Supergrass' never strays far from being irresistibly alive, like the growling psyche-pop of 'Mary' and the Baby Bowie silliness of 'Jesus Came From Outer Space' (its 'The Pope Smokes Dope'- levels of wit counteracted by a staggeringly bullish bridge).
Blissfully oblivious to post-rock phased clavinet solos and coverage in Wire magazine, this is the sound of a band simply picking up their gear and getting on with making music that's a bit sexy, a bit retro, a bit preposterous and a bit cool. About as complex as a mousetrap, 'Supergrass' works like a dream. And, on those terms it must surely count as something of a masterpiece”.
I had followed the band since the start of my high-school days, and I was entering sixth form college when they released their eponymous third – it was a nervous time for me where I was saying goodbye to old friends. Whereas I Should Coco and In It for the Money were scoring my high-school moments and more celebratory times, Supergrass helped give me clarity and comfort at a period of my life where I was not sure what would happen next. Somehow, the music gave me strength, and the album remains so important because of that. Supergrass would win a lot of critics back with their exceptional 2002 album, Life on Other Planets, but Supergrass remains a tricky album for some. If the band had repeated themselves for their third, I don’t think I would have been so invested. For people like me, the reunification of this life-affirming band allows us to get excited but, in a good way, reminiscence and give thanks to a band who gave so many people strength and happiness. We have missed them so much and it is wonderful having them back in our midst. Let’s hope that they remained gelled and focused because it would be sad to see them go away again!
Not only do we look to the future and get to see them back on the stage - but there is that great retrospective collection to enjoy. It is a wonderful time for Supergrass fans right now. In this interview with NME, Gaz Coombes talked about the forthcoming set:
“It’s pretty definitive, man. We’ve worked on it a lot. It’s a really band-driven piece as opposed to a retrospective record company release without the band’s knowledge. All of the rarities and uncovered stuff has been found by us rooting through cardboard boxes in our basements and finding mini discs and cassettes. It’s been cool to have a few months to just explore all of that stuff. God knows how we got anything done because there’s insane amounts of nonsense on all of these tapes of us just making weird little songs and jokey things. The box set is going to be pretty comprehensive, man – it’s got everything. I’ve just seen it all laid out and it looks brilliant”.
You can pre-order a copy of the career-spanning opus and, if it has been a while since you’ve dipped your toes into Supergrass’ water, make sure you do! I have mentioned a few of their albums but, in reality, all of their albums are wonderful! They made a big impact on their arrival; at a time when Britpop was raging and, up until their last studio album in 2008 (Diamond Hoo Ha), they have lit up the music world. Having Supergrass back on stage after so many years allows us to, once more, enjoy timeless songs from a…
IMAGE CREDIT: Supergrass
TRULY sensational group.