I never liked Supergrass. “Alright” was cheerful to the point of inanity, and the band always seemed to have more facial hair than actual talent. Now, though, I want to join their fan club, follow the band around the world and tattoo the band name on my buttocks. Supergrass is a masterpiece – a flawed masterpiece, but a cracking record nonetheless.
The album kicks off with the melancholy “Moving”, a pean to the dubious joys of touring. When a band writes a song about how crap it is being rich and famous, it’s normally a good reason to hunt them down with flaming torches. In this case, however, the song’s a stunning piece of music that starts off like a Radiohead ballad and then dives head first into slamming seventies funk. When you first hear the chorus you’re likely to burst out laughing, but repeated listens embed the song in your head and it works perfectly.
Most bands are content to find one style of music and stick to it, but on Supergrass the band run giggling through every genre of music they can think of. Refreshingly free from irony, delicate folksy laments meet walls of heavy metal guitar and, on songs like “Pumping On Your Stereo”, singer Gaz Coombes gets away with a spot-on impersonation of Diamond Dogs-era Bowie that’s both hilarious and perfectly judged. Even the schoolboy humour of singing “humping” instead of “pumping” throughout the song is forgivable, and the music works both as a party song and as a knowing pastiche.
The band’s musical vocabulary is staggering, with many songs employing a bewildering array of melodies and chord sequences without becoming self-indulgent or tedious. “What Went Wrong In Your Head” sounds like a bitter nursery rhyme played by ELO, until Gaz bellows the refrain “God save the unstable” in a voice that recalls Noddy Holder at his loudest. “Eon” takes a very different tactic, placing a fragile vocal on top of a swirling, atmospheric groove that The Verve would give their right arms to have written. Other songs combine loose-limbed funk, glam rock and introspective doodlings to powerful effect.
Of course, British law dictates that every good album should have two duff tracks and Supergrass is no exception. The whimsical “Mama & Papa” would be a forgettable B-side at best, and the lyrics to “Jesus Came From Outer Space” are as bad as the title suggests.
One of the most surprising tracks is “Shotover Hill”, a simple acoustic track that soon takes on epic proportions. The song employs a traditional vocal melody but manages to second-guess your expectations at every turn. Just as you think you know what’s coming next, the music veers off in a different direction, turning the melody on its head and creating a powerfully affecting song that you’ll play again and again. Like the rest of the album, it takes a bunch of tired and predictable influences and uses them to create something new and exciting.
Supergrass, then. They’re all right.