It’s difficult to pinpoint a moment in the 1990s when the battle of Britpop was “over” or “won”, but 1997 certainly brought about a significant shift in the genre. The war between Blur and Oasis reached a fever pitch in 1995, the same year a young bunch of upstarts named Supergrass released a frenetic debut album called I Should Coco. Just two years later, the landscape would change a great deal. Blur shifted gears to chase the sound of American indie while Oasis tested the patience of both fans and critics with a puffed-up peacock of an album called Be Here Now. If someone wanted to step up the plate to finish out the decade in brash Britpop style, 1997 was the perfect time to do so.
The band to do that was that spunky trio from Oxford, Supergrass, with their sophomore album In It for the Money. Charting within the top 100 sellers of ten different countries, spawning five singles, receiving enthusiastic reviews, and earning a spot in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, it’s an understatement to say that In It for the Money has gone down in rock history as a Britpop classic. It was only a matter of time before the reissue treatment came along.
So here we are, 24 years later, with a remastered, deluxe expanded edition of three CDs or two LPs with digital formats. The original album still sounds terrific, but the supplemental material will appeal to a more limited audience. The second CD is chock full of demos, alternate mixes, and b-sides, while the third focuses on live material recorded from five different shows. This new release of In It for the Money begins and ends strongly. It’s what’s in the middle that can be rather middling.
One thing about In It for the Money that impressed critics so much in the late ’90s was that Supergrass had matured so quickly. That isn’t to suggest that In It for the Money is some world-weary testimony of a hard life, but to acknowledge that the band could have easily painted themselves into a corner of being one-trick ponies — forgive the mixed metaphors — with their first album. Supergrass avoided that dreaded “sophomore slump” and built upon their punk-inspired strengths without diluting them, maturing without becoming generic or predictable.
Around this time, guitarist and lead vocalist Gaz Coombes recruited his brother Rob to play keyboards on the album, leading Supergrass to become a quartet in the future. The swell of an organ is the first thing you hear on In It for the Money. The title track, the one that greets you from the beginning, never seems to stop building up with a cheeky sense of purpose. “Going Out”, the album’s first single, which preceded the album’s release by over a year, gave fans a clue as to where the band were headed as a roaring rhythm guitar is tamed by ‘60s pop brass. “If you want to go out / Read it in the papers / Tell me what it’s all about!” Gaz Coombes calls out in his upper register, signaling potential inner-band conflict. Coombes and Supergrass were displeased that drummer Danny Goffey was continually excusing himself to record with his then-girlfriend Pearl Lowe, spurning tabloid gossip — or so the story goes.
But if there was tension within Supergrass, it didn’t make it into the music beyond the ambiguous lyrics of “Going Out”. “Spent too much time wondering why I got a feeling,” goes one shrugging line of the hard-driving “Richard III”, the album’s second single. Elsewhere, “Cheapskate” glides on chill funk, “Hollow Little Reign” turns down the tempo on McCartney-esque cabaret, and “Sun Hits the Sky” goes for the throat with vocals designed to fill out an arena’s worth of sound. Should you ever get the feeling that Supergrass might be taking themselves slightly seriously, there’s “Sometimes I Make You Sad” at the end with its wonky keyboard riff, human beatboxing percussion, and a Django Reinhardt guitar solo.
The second CD lasts close to 79 minutes, but its main job is to help you appreciate the original album more. What isn’t a b-side or a monitor mix of a song sounds like rehearsals, sometimes without a vocal scratch track. Early versions of “Going Out”, “G-Song”, and “Richard III” are named “Susan”, “Can’t Dig It”, and “Get Away”, respectively. An early version of “It’s Not Me” was released ahead of the package’s official release, and it sounds much more put-together than most other selections here. At two minutes and ten seconds, “Charles II” is mercilessly short for a power-pop instrumental.
“Late in the Day’s” b-side “The Animal” is a pleasant albeit an aimless bit of electronic noodling that wouldn’t have found a comfortable place on the album. “Melanie Davis” and maybe “20 Foot Halo” would have stood a better chance. The most novel thing here would have to be the 100 seconds of the band trying to record their human beatboxing for “Sometimes I Make You Sad”, titled “Sometimes We’re Very Sad”, mainly because they can’t keep from laughing. If you’re not curious about how In It for the Money came about, you needn’t bother.
The disc of live material makes up for the middle CD’s faults, no matter how haphazard it is. First up is a Toronto performance of “Going Out”, titled “Go Out”, from September 1995. The recording isn’t top-shelf quality and Coombes’ lyrics aren’t all in place yet, but it’s interesting to hear a single from a UK band performing a single for a crowd in Canada five months before its release. A Netherlands performance of “Melanie Davis” is okay but nothing special. A rehearsal tape of “G-Song” before playing at Glastonbury sounds like it was recorded on shoddier equipment than whatever was used in Toronto.
The 16 tracks that follow are devoted to a gig at Rock City, Nottingham, broadcast in early 1998. The radio announcer’s voice even interrupts the mix at one point to talk about how handsome the band looks. Eight of In It for the Money’s 12 tracks were performed that night, with their first attempt at “Going Out” devolving into a Stones jam amid technical difficulties. They threw in “Caught By the Fuzz” and “Alright” as well as a cover of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”, but they gladly let their second album do all the talking. And the crowd responded in kind. When Gaz Coombes announced that the band would be playing “Cheapskate”, the affection is more than a little auditory. The last CD closes out with a beefed-up “Sometimes I Make You Sad” recorded in Amsterdam, real drums this time.
Supergrass’ reissue of In It for the Money is one of those mixed-blessing packages. There is a tangible market out there for people who like to hear the warts-and-all backstory behind a great album. At the same time, not everyone can get that excited about demos. A fabulous live rendition can help you change your opinion about a song. Still, rehearsals with barely-audible vocals are mostly for completists or those with some disposable income — should there be any overlap. I suppose the main takeaway here is that the actual album In It for the Money sounds fresh and gleaming to this day, and no amount of throwaway tracks or live recordings — good or bad — can alter that.