I remember Supergrass’ debut I Should Coco as being something of a big deal in Britpop in 1995, because the band members were so young. Exuberant, exciting and enthusiastic, the trio emitted pure energy in their hyperactive singles. “Caught By The Fuzz,” a Buzzcocks-y punk raveup was the first I remember, a lighthearted, somewhat humorous tale of getting arrested after hours (and being underage). It was then followed by the youth anthem “Alright,” which, as you may recall, was featured in the film Clueless later that year. Everything about them was so refreshing and roguish that word circulated about them having a Steven Spielberg-directed TV series a la The Monkees. Never happened, of course, and it was probably all for the best. Supergrass eventually would have had to grow up.
While I Should Coco was a fine debut, they eclipsed it with the stellar follow-up In It For the Money and eventually filtered into a revved up psychedelic rock sound on Life on Other Planets. But that chapter of the band’s history was closed with the release of their greatest hits album, and thus, a new chapter had begun, bringing us to their fifth album, Road to Rouen. Containing only nine songs, one of them an interlude, the album is constructed more like an LP, split into two halves. Somewhat surprisingly, Rouen is top heavy with epics, beginning with the powerful opening salvo of “Tales of Endurance, Pts. 4, 5 and 6” and closing with the stretched-out grandeur of “Roxy.” Both are fine inclusions in the band’s catalog, as always, even if that interlude, the silly “Coffee in the Pot,” breaks the mood to some extent.
The first single, the saloon piano and acoustic guitar noir country song “St. Petersburg,” is much subtler than most of Supergrass’ A-sides, but makes for a refreshing change of pace, even if “Alright” and “Pumping on Your Stereo” made for great head bobbing. The title track sounds as if it were plucked from David Bowie’s Station to Station album, for its amalgamation of blue-eyed soul and glam rock. And then comes the catchy riffage of “Kick in the Teeth,” which recalls some of the material off of Life on Other Planets for its power pop sensibility.
Like any other Supergrass album, Rouen has its highs and lows. It’s not as upbeat and peppy as their previous records, but the band has found a new path that suits them quite well. It may not be the masterpiece that In It For the Money was, but it’s a fine set, regardless. We may not know what style to expect from Supergrass at this point, but at least we can rely on it being good.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.