I have fond memories of wandering around the old Virgin Megastore in Bristol, incorporated into what was The Galleries shopping centre, looking at all the Britpop albums on vinyl. The shop was always abnormally gloomy compared to most and had an aura mystery which, as an impressionable and cash-strapped teenager, made each visit ludicrously exciting. The displays on the end of racks featured Elastica, Blur, Pulp and Weller, all on vinyl, with the CDs stacked below. At best I would be able to afford one album, but the vinyl was often pretty expensive so I rarely got what I really wanted. I remember, for a number of successive visits, loitering by the display for ‘I Should Coco’, wishing I could get the vinyl and also have a set up decent enough to do it justice. I did eventually buy a vinyl copy of that album, but it was about two years ago from a second hand shop in York. That Virgin Megastore became a Zavvi which, in turn, died and became one of the short-lived Head outlets which will close their doors in a few weeks from now. The idea that that enormous floor space in the middle of Bristol will no longer be occupied by stacks of music upsets me a little and probably more than it rationally should. It was where I began to truly develop my obsession. But I’ve moved on, and so have Supergrass.
If you’d presented that teenage version of me with a copy of ‘Road To Rouen’ and said “this is what they’ll be doing in ten years from now I don’t think I could have processed such a possibility. I may also have questioned your motives in giving a teenage boy free and exciting gifts. Four years along from its release, it’s still something of a one-off and it seems largely to have been forgotten about, considered to be something of a career aberration. When I spoke to Gaz recently about his and Danny’s side project, The Hot Rats, he told me that the new Supergrass album is “not as sombre or melancholic as ‘Road To Rouen’,” and I think his own description of this record is as good as any. The whole thing – ok, ‘Coffee In The Pot’ aside – simply aches.
It was a victim of the culture of early internet leaks, appearing well in advance of its release date and receiving plenty of criticism from the one-listen-masturbators, desperately trying to beat each other (if you’ll excuse the unfortunate timing of that unintended pun) to be first to comment. Considered viewpoints eventually arrived but by that point that album was pretty much stillborn and it fell from the chart almost as quickly as it had arrived. I asked Gaz whether this very early leak had upset him and the band and if he thought it was partly to blame for the sales of the album:
“I remember being told a few months before that a couple of songs were available, I think Mick told me. It is kind of weird, I guess artistically you want to present it as an album, you don’t want the odd little tune filtering out. It’s such a bleak record, you can’t really split it up. As far as the sales kind of thing, the sales are quite often more for the press and appearance, it’s like a status thing. Do I personally feel that it’s changing the output of quality songs? I don’t think it is. It’s just the way the market is and it’s just the way the fans grow up and get into another band and you have to wait for the younger fans to rediscover your band and it’s just a whole process.
“I’ve always been of the opinion that if we can enough cash together to make another record, it’s ok. I’m under no illusion that bands are going to sell, like we did at one point, seven or eight hundred thousand physical releases. Because, I think Arctic Monkeys sold 150,000 copies of their new album which is unbelievably low for such a great band. So, it’s realistic that people are going to download it for free, but as long as enough people buy it or download it from iTunes so that it’ll fund the next album, that’s kind of the idea, I suppose.”
‘Road To Rouen’ will never be the retirement nest egg, the one from which the royalties continue to flow in. It’s a fan’s album, I would argue. If you’ve been there through ‘Sitting Up Straight’, ‘It’s Not Me’, ‘Shotover Hill’ and ‘Evening Of The Day’ then something a little more mature and considered was no great shock. If you were hoping for another ‘Alright’, ‘Going Out’ or ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’ then it was like being kicked in the nuts. If your nuts were in your ears. And someone had a very high kick. But you know what I mean. It needs playing from start to finish and it needs playing at least five times. And after those five listens, if you don’t genuinely think that ‘Tales Of Endurance’, ‘St. Petersburg’ and ‘Low C’ are some of the most beautiful guitar songs you’ve heard in some time then you’ve lost the ability to feel.