Supergrass

TrackAlbum
Mansize RoosterI Should Coco
Richard IIIIn It For The Money
Going OutIn It For The Money
GraceLife On Other Planets
Low CRoad To Rouen
Sofa (Of My Lethargy)I Should Coco
FarawaySupergrass
La SongLife On Other Planets
Tales Of Endurance (Parts 4, 5 & 6)Road To Rouen
RoxyRoad To Rouen

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Contributor: Joel Dear

Here’s one of my favourite facts about Supergrass: their official website once sold colourful badges that read “Supergrass: Everyone’s Second Favourite Band”.

I’ve often seen Mick Quinn, Danny Goffey, and the Coombes brothers dismissed as Britpop also-rans, but if they failed to achieve the same success as Oasis et al then it was never because they lacked the tunes. Lots of people loved Alright, of course, but that song is just the tip of the iceberg; Supergrass’s career lasted almost 20 years and yielded 6 full-length albums that were never less than solid and were often properly brilliant. And while I know that compilations don’t count, the band’s best-of set, Supergrass Is 10, is a joy from start to finish, and some of the 21 tracks on that tightly-packed CD weren’t even released as singles.

So no, it wasn’t that Supergrass didn’t have the songwriting chops to compete with Britpop’s top tier. Perhaps Oxford’s second-favourite sons never achieved global stardom because – as that badge suggests – they just didn’t take themselves seriously enough. While the Gallaghers were recording Wonderwall, Gaz Coombes and co were speeding up their vocal tracks on We’re Not Supposed To to make themselves sound like The Chipmunks.

But this silliness was all part of the Supergrass charm. The band always seemed more interested in having fun than filling football stadiums, and this was reflected both in their music and in the colourful videos they created to accompany their singles. Just take a look at the big Muppet bodies the band adopted for the Pumping On Your Stereo video, or the photo of some onions that they used to censor the scary bits in Mary‘s promo clip. They even poked fun at Oasis themselves in the Late In The Day video, a black-and-white affair that starts with a seated Gaz Coombes playing an acoustic guitar and looking very serious à la Noel Gallagher in the Wonderwall vid but eventually gives way to footage of the band jumping around on pogo sticks as members of the public look on in admiration.

Still, that’s not to say Supergrass couldn’t be serious when they wanted to, as we discovered when Road To Rouen came out in 2005. This album (my personal favourite Supergrass LP, although In It For The Money is a close second) was markedly different to just about everything that preceded it: the songs were written after Gaz and Rob Coombes’ mother passed away, and as a result, the record’s overall tone was muted and melancholy. “I don’t think anyone was in the mood to release another set of Alright-style jovial pop songs,” said bassist Mick Quinn a few years later. “It would have been a lie to try and do ‘up’ music at that point.” But while Road To Rouen lacked an obvious lead single like Grace or Pumping On Your Stereo, it has remained a very strong beginning-to-end experience, and it elegantly demonstrates that Supergrass did have depth as well as their shrewd pop sensibilities.

Supergrass released one more album in 2008 (Diamond Hoo Ha, an enjoyable if unremarkable return to more upbeat territory), and eventually split in 2010 after one final farewell show in Paris. The band members have since gone on to do other stuff – Gaz Coombes’ second solo album, Matador, was nominated for the 2015 Mercury Prize – but for now I’d like to focus on their time together. Here are my top ten Supergrass songs: five of their best singles, plus five great album tracks that you may have missed previously if you’re only familiar with the stuff that made the charts.

 

SINGLES!

I Should Coco was far more than just Alright. Mansize Rooster is a punchy song (allegedly about someone with a big cock, although it’s hard to see any reflection of that in the track outside of its title) that ably demonstrates the album’s more jagged ‘n’ toothy side; it was also one of the first songs I learned to play on the drums, which is why it remains a personal favourite of mine.

 

This was where it all started for me. Richard III was the first Supergrass song I (knowingly) heard, and that riff still sounds electrifying to my ears. How did I come across this track? It was featured in a video game called Donkey Konga, which was a bit like Guitar Hero except with a pair of digital bongos instead of a plastic guitar.

 

Rob Coombes – who wasn’t even an official member of Supergrass until 2002’s Life On Other Planets – was always the band’s secret weapon, and it’s his fairground organ that makes Going Out shine. The lead single from In It For The Money also boasts some great brass bits and many a tasty drum fill from drummer Danny Goffey (although – fun fact – Goffey actually had some issues with Going Out as he believed Gaz Coombes’ lyrics to be a dig at the attention he and his partner Pearl Lowe had been receiving from the UK tabloids).

 

Grace – the best pop song the ‘Grass ever recorded.

Well we jumped all night
On your trampoline
When you kissed the sky
Made your sister scream

 

Low C is not one of the band’s better-known singles, but one of their most plainly emotive and a great example of the development and maturation that we saw on the superb Road To Rouen. It also has this lovely video, which for some reason made me cry the first time I saw it.

 

ALBUM TRACKS!

Sofa (of My Lethargy) is positively catatonic by I Should Coco‘s wide-eyed standards, but this track stands out precisely because it slows things down and spreads itself out a bit. Rob Coombes’ organ is an important element once again, but it’s the contrast between Gaz’s blissed-out verses (“I wandered for a while…”) and his more desperate-sounding delivery in the chorus (“Hold on now, all I wanna do is see you!”) that really sells this song. (hear it here)

Supergrass (aka The X-Ray Album) is far from my favourite ‘Grass LP, but Faraway may well be my favourite song of theirs. It builds slowly to a glorious, extended climax that perfectly captures what it feels like to start over again after reaching a dead end. (hear it here)

La Song. Daft as a box frogs in pink clown wigs, but oddly exhilarating. I love the keyboard part (Rob Coombes again!) and I love the bizarre, deeper voice that Gaz decided to use here. Do the dance of the mashed potato! (hear it here)

Tales of Endurance (Parts 4, 5 & 6) is the opening track from Road To Rouen, Supergrass’s serious fifth album. If you’re searching for something ‘epic’-sounding, then the moody first half of Tales… has more gravitas than anything else they ever did; the second half, conversely, sounds like Franz Ferdinand. Bit unexpected the first time you hear it, but it works pretty darn well, all in all. (hear it here)

Probably the most acutely emotional track in Supergrass’s repertoire, Roxy is Road To Rouen‘s centrepiece and the song that most directly addresses the death of Gaz and Rob’s mother. It’s the single longest song the band ever recorded, as well as the most dynamically diverse; it pulsates, then quivers and quiets down, then builds back up again to a cacophonous finish. Beautiful. (hear it here)

 

 

 

Supergrass official website

The Strange Ones – official Supergrass fan site

A buyer’s guide to Supergrass albums

Gaz Coombes official website

Danny Goffey official website

Mick Quinn official website

Supergrass biography (iTunes)

Joel Dear lives in Cardiff and overthinks his favourite albums on a blog called The Album Wall. He also writes and performs his own songs under the name Shiny Tiger. When he’s not making or writing about music, Joel enjoys drinking rum, playing board games, and quoting The Simpsons at every available opportunity.

TopperPost #534

3 Comments

  1. John Hartley
    Jul 4, 2016

    Very enjoyable read. Supergrass put fun into a time when music was a bit too full of itself, and wrote excellent songs to boot. You’re dead right about Supergrass is 10, too.

  2. Simon Sadler
    Jul 4, 2016

    A fine selection. I agree they were never given the kudos they deserved for some fantastic songwriting. In It For The Money hinted at them becoming one of this country’s finest rock bands, which they somehow contrived to fail to become. I was always hugely disappointed with the third album, in spite of Moving being one of their best moments, and they never quite recovered it, though Road To Rouen again showed what they could have been capable of.

  3. Paul Foley
    Jul 8, 2016

    Great piece and great read. Always had a fondness for Supergrass, the cheeky chaps with the fun uplifting songs.
    But it was their ‘Road to Rouen’ album that made me love them! What a brilliant album it was and still is. And the songs you mention off it have to be my favourites. In fact ‘Low C’ would probably be my favourite Supergrass song ever! I just couldn’t count the number of times I have watched the video for ‘Low C’, it’s quite simply a brilliant and moving video!!

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