[26 October 2004]
Britpop. Oh how I’ve missed you. To be a music fan (especially a college-aged music fan) in those heady days of ‘94-‘97, was a blessed thing. Mainly a reaction to the anti-star, no-fun-allowed grunge movement, Britpop was the most important musical trend of the mid-to late ‘90s. If you didn’t follow the scene closely at the time, you might only know Blur and Oasis, maybe you’d remember an Elastica song, or that campy send up of “Wonderwall” by The Mike Flowers Pop. But there was oh so much more.
At the time, NME was at its height. The UK music weekly was the catalyst for so much that happened in the neo-swingin’ London of the ‘90s (and in the college towns of America where we snapped up each week’s issue at five times the cost of the British version). Every week it seemed, there was another young band on its cover, and NME was, no doubt, claiming said band to be not just a great new musical act, but more often than not, the saviors of rock ‘n’ roll. It was in this very manner that a group of high school kids named Supergrass was introduced. At the time, we were buying anything and everything. If NME put them on the cover, or even wrote up yet another drunken interview, we were game. We simply waited for the local record shop to get in their imports.
So, right, Supergrass. They didn’t look like the über-pop stars that Britpop was so successfully spawning at the time. They looked like, well, Hobbits. And they had mutton-chops, and their lead singer’s name was Gaz. So we bought their debut with some skepticism. Skepticism that very quickly gave way to complete and utter astonishment. Supergrass is one of those bands that actually make you laugh whilst listening. Not laughing because they’re funny (although they were), I mean the kind of laugh you give when you are having so much fun, you just can’t help yourself.
Supergrass was going to be a one-album wonder, which was fine. We never expected them to grow up, or mature as songwriters. We were happy to just bounce around for awhile. But later, the unexpected happened. They became one of the best bands of their generation. They grew, matured, wrote better songs, made better records. While Oasis and Elastica, and The Verve were falling apart, Supergrass just kept getting better. So the fact that it’s 2004 and Supergrass is releasing a “Best of” for their 10th anniversary comes as a little bit of a shock, but a very welcome one.
Every song on Supergrass’s debut was a gem. It was called I Should Coco, and we just loved it. We bounced around to it, drank beers to it, had it blasting out the car on the occasional Sunday drive. They were a kind of glam-rock Monkees. T-Rex meets Davey Jones meets the Buzzcocks. Supergrass is 10: The Best of 94-04 includes four songs from Should Coco: “Caught By the Fuzz”, the band’s hugely fun teenage drug-bust anthem opens the collection, while “Alright” (their Monkeys-style theme song), “Strange Ones”, and “Time” also make appearances. They’re all classics, and all sound every bit as great today, as they did back then.
Supergrass’s second album was the one that shocked us all. In It For the Money was a more mature, more delicately crafted, more colorful collection than Should Coco. Featuring a denser sound, and the addition of organ, synths, and horns, In It For the Money proved than Supergrass were here to stay.
Later the band would release two more acclaimed albums, Supergrass in 1999 and their latest, Life on Other Planets in 2002. All the best cuts from those are represented here as well, and the selections are well made. The excellent “Pumping on Your Stereo” and “Moving” from Supergrass and “Grace” and “Rush Hour Soul” from Life on Other Planets.
The collection is, rather awkwardly, arranged in non-sequential order, which is not only a pet-peeve of most music fans, but also does a disservice to the history of a band that has grown so much in their short career. It would have been nice to track their progress as one listened to the collection. That being said, the album does flow together well, and due to the sheer quality of the material, is enjoyable from start to finish.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper “Best of” without a couple of new tracks. “Bullet” is a bit of a disappointment. A bit non-descript, and dare-I-say-it, grungy, “Bullet” seems like it would have been better off as a b-side. “Kiss of Life”, however, sees the band in completely different territory. Musically it sounds like the Stone Roses’ funkier tracks, while vocally it lies somewhere between Prince, and Marc Bolan. It’s a good song, and might hint at where Supergrass is heading next.
If all this wasn’t enough for fans of the ‘Grass, the collection comes with a bonus disc of live material recorded for XFM.
All in all, Supergrass is 10: The Best of 94-04 is a great collection. I would have liked to have seen a couple of their lesser-known tracks included (the b-side, “Melanie” Davis” is especially missed), but that is simply nitpicking. Supergrass is 10: The Best of 94-04 is essential for any great music collection. Put it on, turn it up, and dance. Trust me, you’ll laugh.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/supergrass-is10/