A Week With… 11. Supergrass – In It For The Money

JP aww 11

It’s not actually that difficult to spot why this record didn’t turn Supergrass into one of the nation’s biggest bands. Not because it’s not great, because it is, but because it’s a curious beast. Off the back of the out and out fun of ‘I Should Coco’, ‘In It For The Money’ was a textured, meticulously structured headfuck for plenty of young green people with nice, clean teeth. As ‘G-Song’ roars and flails its way to its conclusion towards the end of side 1, it’s hard to align the sound with the band responsible for ‘Alright’ and ‘Mansize Rooster’. The trick, I’m willing to suggest, is to use ‘Lenny’ as your reference point from the debut and then it starts to make a little more sense. That one, joyously noisy, cleverer than it seems, burst of incendiary indie explosives contains enough hints that this band were not only seriously capable, but also ridiculously astute in their building of sound.

grass money

In It For The Money’ is a wonderfully warm record, with noodly keyboards, twiddly bass parts and soaring guitar riffs that never go stale. It occurred to me this week that I hadn’t dusted down the vinyl of this one since upgrading the stylus a few months back, and once I’d picked it out again, it wasn’t going back in a hurry. The drifting drums and improvised guitar sounds across the end of ‘Sun Hits The Sky’ are amongst my favourite moments in indie-pop history. It’s a euphoric celebration of sound tacked on to an astoundingly tight chart smash. It probably shouldn’t be there, but that’s probably why it works so well. Sometimes you desperately want a bit more of your favourite songs and on occasions like this, it seems like a bloody good idea.

Going Out’, which appeared as a single almost a year ahead of the rest of the album, is a blistering start to side 2, somehow managing to combine a thin piano sound, swirling organ part and thundering guitars into an attacking force will leave you breathless. I never appreciated just how great this song was when it came out as a single. The bold, brassy sounds had a shade of Britpop about them and, forgive me for this, it felt a bit like it was trying too hard to fit in. I was staggeringly wide of the mark, but it took me a while to change my opinion. No such prevarication with the song that follows it, ‘It’s Not Me’, which is a track that should be used to demonstrate the sonic capabilities of shit-hot headphones. It’s a quite brilliantly arranged stereo soundscape which gently tickles every little corner of your ears, leaving me genuinely awestruck by the power of music.

All of this and I’ve not even mentioned two of the album’s vastly different but equally sublime singles. ‘Richard III’ prefaced the album and only served to emphasise the change in direction from ‘I Should Coco’. Short, sharp and bloody loud, it took a bit of getting used to and I remember thinking that it jarred a little alongside your average daytime fare on Radio 1 when it first appeared. Thirteen years later, it was clearly the perfect way to signal a notable gearshift ahead of the album proper as it took the core idea of a naggingly familiar melody, an ever-present tactic on the debut, and bulked out the sound without ever seeming bloated.

That this record is thirteen years old is actually quite staggering. While it no longer feels like a recent release, it doesn’t feel like something that belongs in the Nineties Museum along with Loaded, Menswear and TFI Friday. Indeed, ‘In It For The Money’ is the one Supergrass outing that can lay claim to being truly timeless. If you told me it was an early Seventies overlooked gem, I could believe it. ‘Diamond Hoo Ha’ is the closest they’ve come to putting out a sub-standard record, and even that has its redeeming features, but ‘In It For The Money’ ensures a very, very high watermark. Those who read the interview with Gaz and Danny on this blog a couple of weeks ago will remember the former’s comments about the forthcoming Supergrass album. “There are some amazing songs on there, songs that I can imagine playing in a vast stadium somewhere. I’m really, really pleased. This record began life as a sort of free for all; we were swapping around our instruments, keeping things fresh and spontaneous. It’s like our little ‘White Album’. It’s just been tightened up week after week in terms of making it into a record that’s really powerful. It’s not as rock and roll as ‘Diamond Hoo Ha’. I think it’s just a psychedelic record. ‘In It For The Money’ was quite a psychedelic record, and I think this is probably our most psychedelic record for a good few years. It’s hard to say exactly but it’s sounding wicked.” If it is even half as good as the album to which it has been compared, then I will be more than content. Here’s hoping.

Two Lovely Men Talk About Twelve Lovely Cover Versions

As this has now left the shelves of newsagents across the land, I can’t see any harm in posting up my interview with Gaz and Danny from Supergrass in their current guise as The Hot Rats. Their album of swaggering, insistent and remarkably vital sounding covers, ‘Turn Ons’, is out now. They were both thoroughly lovely and happy to chat about the new Supergrass album and their departure from EMI. There are some leftover bits from this that I really should put up here sometime. For now though, have a read.

THE HOT RATS

The Hot Rats

Two-thirds of Supergrass adopt new moniker, hook up with Nigel Godrich and record twelve remarkable covers in two weeks.

Fun. That one syllable is the essence of what The Hot Rats are all about. Essentially an extra-curricular project stemming from time spent promoting the last Supergrass album as fictitious duo The Diamond Hoo Ha Men, bassist Mick Quinn having sleepwalked out of a first floor window whilst on holiday, this latest endeavour is something that shows a different side to the band. “It’s got that mixtape vibe, but done with a contemporary twist by a contemporary band,” explains Gaz. “It was just a bit of fun and it turned out better than we expected so we thought we’d have a little crack at putting it out.”

“The whole idea was to do at least a song a day, a really fast recording,” Danny explains. “We’d choose a song really quickly and then do it that afternoon or evening.” “We had four or five songs that we’d decided on at the start of the session,” continues Gaz, “and then it was a case of waking up in the morning and getting in the studio and thinking ‘right, what’s next?’”

The impeccable song choices on ‘Turns Ons’ (Gang Of Four’s ‘Damaged Goods’, Roxy Music’s ‘Love Is The Drug’, The Velvet Underground’s ‘I Can’t Stand It’) aside, it’s what they’ve actually done with them that makes this one of the first great releases of 2010. The Beastie Boys’ ‘Fight For Your Right’ is almost unrecognisable until the chorus kicks in, shorn of its not inconsiderable guitar riff. Although they initially considered sticking to the sound of the original, “we thought,” explains Gaz, “let’s just try it acoustic. So, I picked up the guitar and started playing chords over it and it just seemed to have this mid-Sixties Who feel.” Factor in the falsetto verses and you have one of the album’s stand out tracks.

Danny cheerily admits that their version ‘Love Cats’ draws on another great song: “Me and Gaz just started jamming for five minutes and we had this sort of ‘Lust For Life’ vibe. It’s the beauty of working with one person for so long, we know how we want something to sound. It was just really quick.” The inclusion of a cover of the Sex Pistols‘EMI’ can’t be entirely innocent, can it? Supergrass parted ways with Parlophone, an EMI subsidiary, in 2008 and this particular song choice is sure to raise a few eyebrows. “It’s a little cheeky wink, but there’s no real animosity,” explains Gaz. “The company changed and we were happier to get out before we got really left in the shade. All the risk taking had just kind of disappeared.”

Record label politics settled and with Supergrass now part of the Cooking Vinyl family, the follow up to ‘Diamond Hoo Ha’ will arrive soon after ‘Turns Ons’ and Gaz is happy to talk it up. “There are some amazing songs on there, songs that I can imagine playing in a vast stadium somewhere. I’m really, really pleased. This record began life as a sort of free for all; we were swapping around our instruments, keeping things fresh and spontaneous. It’s like our little ‘White Album’. It’s just been tightened up week after week in terms of making it into a record that’s really powerful. It’s not as rock and roll as ‘Diamond Hoo Ha’. I think it’s just a psychedelic record. ‘In It For The Money’ was quite a psychedelic record, and I think this is probably our most psychedelic record for a good few years. It’s hard to say exactly but it’s sounding wicked.”

Far from being a way of treading water or filling a creative vacuum, it seems that The Hot Rats album actually played its part in setting the tone for the new Supergras album. “I think on this one we wanted to be pretty disorganised,” continues Gaz, “go into the studio, the live room, with great sounds and bits and pieces. Working with Nigel on The Hot Rats album was a big inspiration for me and Danny. We brought a bit of that to this record.” We are, however, getting ahead of ourselves. ‘Turn Ons’ is more than capable of satisfying our ears for the next few months, sonically sculpted as it is by a man of some pedigree.

And what about the presence of genius producer Nigel Godrich? How did he find working at such a rapid pace? “He was really up for that, he didn’t want to sit around doing huge production numbers,” explains Danny. “I think he enjoyed using his musical brain and his techniques in a different way. He’s so good at what he does. He totally propelled the energy of the session. He was very up.” And ‘very up’ is the most succinct way to describe this wonderful record. It’s clearly intended as a one-off but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just a throwaway vanity project. Both Gaz and Danny talk of this album with genuine enthusiasm and affection. “It was just a case of exploring and experimenting,” says Gaz, “but it came out really well. I’m really proud of it.”

2010 on the record

14. Supergrass – Road To Rouen

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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.

14 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.

Not quite ‘Just Played’ but nearly

Rain pours, Harriet Wheeler gently soothes the soul and the need for a jumper gradually creeps up on you. A good day, methinks. It’s strange to be mulling over the previous ten years of music, continuing to listen to a fair old pile of new stuff and already listening to some of the wondrous stuff that awaits in 2010. The Just Played Albums of the Decade feature will begin shortly and I have every hope that it’ll be at least quite good. The list is close to finished but, simultaneously, subject to a great deal of change. The end of year list is also coming together alongside the larger venture, but its progress is repeatedly stalled by the number of ‘late greats’ entering the fray.

In the last few weeks I’ve had my first listens to recent albums by Norah Jones, Hidden Cameras, Cate Le Bon, Cerys Matthews, Molina and Johnson, Mumford & Sons, Emmy The Great and Julian Casablancas. In addition, Noah And The Whale’s album got its first detailed listen and turned out to be really rather good while Monsters Of Folk, The xx, Cheryl Cole and Kings Of Convenience were explored in more detail. There have been so many fantastic records this year that it’s hard to know where to start.

Still, I’ll have a go. If the Cerys Matthews album was credited to Duffy instead, it’d be a chart-shagging behemoth of a record. As it is, it’ll sell a few thousand and turn up for £3 in Fopp within six months. Wearing its influences on its sleeve, ‘Don’t Look Down’ is a soulful set of beautifully constructed pop songs. It’s hard to believe that the same person was responsible for ‘The Balled Of Tom Jones’, in conjunction with Space.

The Norah Jones album is being touted as the ‘Norah Jones album for people who don’t like Norah Jones albums’. That’s clearly spurious bollocks, because if you like this then you do and, oh well, nevermind, eh? Still, it’s very, very good and more than a little noisier than her previous offerings. I always quite liked her somewhat sneered at laid back jazzy early albums but this is definitely her strongest offering to date. Far more bluesy and benefiting from the presence of some of those responsible for Tom Waits’ ‘Mule Variations’. Not Tom Waits though, I should add. It’s already available via the little green blob, so click the image below and enjoy.

Norah 

The cryptically named Molina and Johnson are a double act comprising of Jason Molina and Will Johnson. Molina will likely be familiar to you as the man behind the always enchanting Magnolia Electric Co and, having already provided one of the better album of the year with that band’s ‘Josephine’, has now managed to turn in a second belter before the year is out. Far more sparse than the aforementioned, ‘Josephine’, this is a bleakly beautiful collection of melancholic music boosted by deft and subtle playing. Wait till it’s dark, grab a cup of something warm and sit by the window looking at the stars and hit play.

molina-johnson

My new found love of Cate Le Bon came about as a result of a happy coincidence. Having heard her named mentioned in a few places and seen her profiled in a couple of magazines I knew of her, without knowing what she actually sounded like. I found myself thumbing through the singles in Spillers the other week and happened upon her self-released 7”, ‘No One Can Drag Me Down’, from a couple of years back. It sat in the bag for a few days until I finally dusted it down and gave it a go. Four play of each side later I was hooked. I can’t actually remember the last single that I gave instant repeated play to and this one truly deserves it. Click here and you can download both sides of that single for absolutely nothing. I will be absolutely amazed if you’re not glad to have done so. That might well lead you to her recently released debut album which doesn’t sound quite as Coral-y as that particular single but is one of the most charmingly simple collection of folky songs I’ve heard all year. It is, inevitably, available on Spotify.

cate

David McAlmont has set about adding lyrics to a number of pieces by genius composer (and Divine Comedy inspiration) Michael Nyman. It probably shouldn’t work but, providing you’re a fan on McAlmont’s voice in the first place, it’s remarkably successful. I’m only the first couple of listens in at this stage but I’m strangely hooked. In the same way that Neil Hannon adding vocals to Yann Tiersen’s ‘Les Jours Tristes’ should have been a bit of a balls up but really, truly wasn’t, McAlmont’s mellifluous vocals are a perfect fit for the dramatic endeavours of Nyman and I suspect this one has the capacity to become a firm favourite before too long. Let Spotify be your guide:

mcalmont nyman(and should you wish to test my theory, here’s ‘Les Jours Tristes’ without Neil and then with – both are rather nice, eh?)

I was never hugely fond of the early sound of Idlewild. They always struck me a bit too much energy and noise and not quite enough in the tunes department. I reviewed their 2005 album, ‘Warnings/Promises’, and remember quite liking it and wondering if things had changed. A recent purchase of their best of for £3 confirmed that I’d perhaps been a little hard on the increasingly early-REM aping Scots. Their latest album, ‘Post Electric Blues’, has lifted them higher in my affections and with good reason: it’s a bloody good collection of songs. At times poppier than they’ve been in the past, this album is probably far too late to put their star back in the ascendancy but I suspect its quality will surprise you if you have them chalked up as indie also-rans who never quite delivered. It may have taken them a while, but they’ve very much turned up with the goods. (Plus, there’s a lovely vinyl pressing on the Newport based Diverse Vinyl label)

idlewild

For those who follow my Twitter postings, Ellie Goulding should not be an unfamiliar name. She is responsible for one of the THE pop songs of 2009, ‘Under The Sheets’. With unashamedly enormous beats all over the place and a quirky vocal it pummels along for almost four minutes, doing everything great pop music should: slowly building to euphoria, staying just the right side of annoyingly repetitive, going a little bit dreamy around the two and a half minute mark before gradually returning to the enormous sound of the chorus. Oh yes, my music loving brethren, this is what it’s all about. You might, of course, think it’s bobbins. But I suspect that would make you wrong. (The b-side, ‘Fighter Plane’ is also rather good)

elliecover

On the subject of top notch pop, if you’ve not heard Jamie from The xx’s version of Florence’s cover of ‘You’ve Got The Love’ then you should probably do something about that. Don’t be put off by the arse-shreddingly mediocre Florence reading, this remix is wonderful, entirely in keeping with The xx’s own fabulous debut album. 

I shall conclude by briefly gloating about some of the wonderful new music I’ve been listening to over the last couple of weeks. The first month of 2010 will deliver both a new Tindersticks album and SupergrassGaz and Danny doing a covers album as The Hot Rats. I spoke to the latter band for a ‘New for 2010’ piece and they are, quite rightly, rather proud of the twelve reinterpretations they’ve opted for. Their take on ‘Love Is The Drug’, ‘Love Cats’ and, most notably, ‘Fight For Your Right’ have been keeping me thoroughly entertained for a little while now and any Supergrass fans can sit back in anticipation of a genuinely wonderful collection of songs. Some versions are more conventional than others but all are delivered with gusto and style. Not all covers albums have to be ‘Swing When You’re Winning’, ‘Allow Us To Be Frank’ or ‘Studio 150’. This one is much more of a ‘Pin Ups’.

As for the new Tindersticks album, ‘Falling Down A Mountain’, it only arrived yesterday and I’m still a little bit too giddy to be particularly objective about it but suffice to say it’s another quality addition to a back catalogue that barely puts a foot wrong. It’s a little rougher round the edges than 2008’s ‘The Hungry Saw’ and it’s musically less restrained than that, nevertheless really rather beautiful, previous record. There are occasional hints of the more claustrophobic production sound of ‘Curtains’ and ‘The Second Tindersticks album’ on a couple of tracks, while closer ‘Piano Music’ is an epic instrumental piece which certainly evokes times gone by.

A self-indulgent way to pass the time

Hello, dear readers. The end of the decade best of list is proving tougher to finalise than I thought it would be, so that’ll have to wait just a little longer. As part of this process, I’ve been revisiting some of the reviews I’ve written over the past six or so years and thought it might be interesting to post them here and see if I was on the money, wide of the mark or simply babbling incoherently. I should say before I start this, I’m not overly thrilled with all of these and they will be the original texts as I submitted them to the magazines, and so any bits that got subbed by my erstwhile reviews editors will still be here.

To kick off, a review of Supergrass’ best of, from 2004. I’m in the middle of doing a piece about their charming new extra-curricular project, The Hot Rats, so I thought I’d drop this one out there.

Supergrass_is_10 

SUPERGRASS SUPERGRASS IS 10

(Parlophone)

The grammatically correct but aesthetically depressing title aside, this particular retrospective is something of an unknown history. After their tumultuous arrival in the midst of Brtipop, Supergrass’ star has appeared, through no fault of their own, to have been on the blink. Seemingly rather keen to point out that it wasn’t all cavorting on bikes and bendy-legged Muppets videos, this set gamely attempts to represent both sides of the ‘Grass. .

The soul of Britpop hasn’t lost any of its vigour when it reappears on a fair wedge of tunes culled from the band’s debut, ‘I Should Coco’, a spirit that is reprised on tracks from their underrated and notably under-bought last album, ‘Life On Other Planets’. There is a slight feel, however, of being down the indie-disco and the dreaded fear that Shed Seven might pop up at any time is never far from your mind. Where this record really strikes gold is in highlighting the band’s knack for contemplative, melodic acoustic tunes such as ‘Late In The Day’ and the glorious ‘It’s Not Me’. The parent album of this pair, ‘In It For The Money’, remains their finest achievement and is as deserving of the moniker ‘The Best Of Supergrass’ as this particular compilation.

Hugely enjoyable current single, *Kiss Of Life* comes on like a cross between The Charlatans and T-Rex with added silly noises, while other obligatory new track, *Bullet* offers a heavier sound but manages to forget to add a melody. Where they go next is unknown, but what they’ve already done bears some repeating.

VERDICT: Enjoyable nostalgia, but all you need is their superlative second album.

KEY TRACKS: Grace, Going Out, It’s Not Me

Originally published in Word Magazine 2004

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I largely stand by this, five years on, although there’s a slightly snide reference to Shed Seven there that’s helping nobody.

The other one for today is simply proof that I’ve always known what I was talking about.

elbow

ELBOW

Leaders Of The Free World finds Elbow delivering a work of global majesty.

Beardy, Mancunian melancholia is an integral part of the modern music scene. Where previously local rivals such as Doves have stolen a march on them, Elbow have set about fulfilling the promise that was so clear on their first two albums. Initially purveyors of more muted, atmospheric efforts, this time out the band seem far more confident of their sizeable talents

Mostly set in the urban wilds of Manchester, the brief global view attempted in the title track proves to be a remarkably successful – now say this quietly – ‘political song.’ The beauty of lines such as, “passing the gun from father to feckless son,” in neither being too blatant nor too pious ensures that the ham-fisted, vacuous efforts of many before them are not repeated in this gem of a tune.

The album maintains its quality throughout, two of the latter songs amongst the best things I’ve heard all year. ‘The Everthere’ employs similarly muted percussion to that of Blur’s charming, ‘Out Of Time’ and is one of frontman Guy Garvey’s finest vocal performances on the record. This is only surpassed by ‘Great Expectations,’ which tells the tale of an imaginary wedding on the last bus home between our man and a hitherto unknown young lady, for which “a call-girl with yesterday eyes was our witness.”

Such endearingly well-imagined lyrics are typical of ‘Leaders Of The Free World’, an album that comes good on Elbow’s previous hints at greatness and which will surely rank amongst the finest releases of the year come December.

Leaders Of The Free World is on V2

Originally published in Word Magazine 2005

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What can I say? I was playing the vinyl of this the other night, having just listened to the deluxe edition of ‘Asleep In The Back’ and was reminded that they’ve always been great, it just took the public a while to pick up on that fact. The rather lovely Jude Rogers, who was my reviews editor at the time, was part of the judging team who gave the Mercury Music Prize to them for ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ and she later told me that after falling in love with their fourth album, she was reminded of me banging on about how great they were and that I was right all along. Quite so!