Influenced: The Dandy Warhols, Muse, Stereophonics, The Strokes, The Libertines, Razorlight, The Futureheads, The Kooks, Two Door Cinema Club, Tribes, Peace, The 1975, Blossoms, Gengahr
Influenced by: The Beatles, The Kinks, The Monkees, The Who, David Bowie, T.Rex, Ramones, Buzzcocks, The Jam, The Stone Roses, Nirvana
Despite their penchant for bloody brilliant singles and a clutch of platinum-selling albums, discussions of great Nineties music rarely seem to include Supergrass. Where they are mentioned, it’s often as part of a kind of ‘second tier’ of Britpop groups below the holy quartet of Blur, Oasis, Pulp and Suede. Along with the likes of Ash, Super Furry Animals, Elastica and Sleeper, the Oxford-based trio are certainly more fondly remembered than the legions of shitty hangers-on to the Britpop movement, but they’re not regarded as being among its key progenitors either.
To our minds, this is an unfair perception that needs to be revised, particularly as it’s now been 10 years since the release of what turned out to be their final studio album, Diamond Hoo Ha, in March 2008. Supergrass transcended the sterile revivalism of so many of their Britpop peers because their style came from a place that was so naturalistic. Where so much Nineties British indie seemed workmanlike and self-conscious, particularly from 1996 onwards, Supergrass’s writing and execution was intuitive and effortless. Theirs was a style that’s strongly influenced British indie bands today, ranging from more hagiographic Britpop-impersonating works of Peace and Blossoms to the modern pop leanings of Two Door Cinema Club and The 1975.
READ MORE: The Top 200 Albums of the 1990s
Officially a three-piece, consisting of singer/guitarist Gaz Coombes with bassist Mick Quinn and drummer Danny Goffey providing backing vocals, but for practical purposes a quartet with Gaz’s brother Rob on keyboards and backing vocals, Supergrass officially formed in 1993. When they crashed onto the scene late the following year with their brilliant debut single ‘Caught By The Fuzz’, a spiky, Monkees-meets-Buzzcocks tale of a teenage guilty conscience facing stern authority after being busted with weed, two of the band were still in their teens.
A blast of fresh air that placed them immediately among the likes of Suede and Blur, who had already kicked down the door to the mainstream, ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ was a case of an extremely smart band having big, dumb fun. But it quickly became clear already that the band’s three songwriters had a sophistication that belied their tender years – following that breakthrough, they replicated the success with three UK Top 20 hits, including the immortal anthem to youth of ‘Alright’. Their 1995 debut album I Should Coco became Parlophone’s biggest-selling debut LP since The Beatles’ Please Please Me over three decades previously, as well as bagging a Mercury Music Prize nomination.
While the radio hits, smash singles and acclaimed albums continued to roll in for the best part of a decade afterwards, allowing Supergrass to easily survive the cull of Britpop bands that occurred post-1997, the group never quite emulated the sheer impact of I Should Coco in raw commercial terms. Returns gradually, and then drastically, tailed off as the Noughties progressed and the band entered their second decade, but not without a number of memorable highlights along the way.
READ MORE: Supergrass // ‘I Should Coco’ at 20 years old
1997’s sophomore effort In It For The Money, in particular, now registers as one of the forgotten gems of the late Britpop era, housing four terrific hit singles and teeming with quiet innovation and graceful songcraft where their peers were scrabbling desperately for half an idea. 1999 saw Supergrass grapple with the infamous ‘difficult third album’ syndrome, but the self-titled effort nevertheless contained two fondly remembered radio hits with ‘Moving’ and ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’.
Regaining some of their energy and urgency with 2002’s Life On Other Planets, the band stepped into the new millennium in rude health, although none of its singles performed particularly well. The release of their 2004 greatest hits compilation, Supergrass Is 10, was a masterstroke decision and proved a timely reminder to the world of all that they had achieved, also housing another amazing new single in ‘Kiss Of Life’. On a purely personal note, I have extremely fond memories of this compilation, as it provided a soundtrack to the first summer after I had left school, of freedom, Euro 2004 and house parties.
Supergrass’s next move was a dignified move into darker and more mature territory, with the largely morose Road To Rouen emerging in 2005, less than 12 months after the joyous anniversary parties of the previous year. While it was a difficult record to make for the band for personal reasons, partly due to Danny Goffey and his wife cropping up in the British tabloids regarding alleged ‘wife-swapping’, and didn’t contain much in the way of obvious singles, the group’s hardcore fans went along with the shift in tone and emphasis, but lost many of their fairweather followers.
Diamond Hoo Ha, their sixth record, followed in 2008, representing arguably the broadest palette of musical inspirations Supergrass had ever attempted to use, but also sought discover the lightness of touch that had graced their very first records. Sadly, it ended up being something of a mixed bag in the event, with its singles sinking without trace and, despite some notable great tracks, hitting a lowly no.19 in the British charts and becoming their first album not even to notch up a silver certification.
The Supergrass story then ended quite suddenly. Parlophone was subsumed by the venture capitalist group Terra Firma at the end of 2008, and the group’s contract came to an abrupt end. They signed to Cooking Vinyl in 2009 and began work on a seventh album, Release The Drones. However, that project has never seen the light of day, as inter-band disagreements about musical directions caused the material to be abandoned and, using that oldest of chestnuts, Supergrass announced they were splitting due to creative differences. Four farewell gigs were performed, with the final curtain coming on 11th June 2010 at La Cigale in Paris, a city that had increasingly become a spiritual home for the band as the years had rolled by.
For newcomers to this special and often underrated band, below is a playlist containing to Supergrass’s finest moments and hidden treasures from throughout their discography. On the next page, check out our thumbnail guide to their six studio albums.
Tags: An Introduction to, Danny Goffey, Diamond Hoo Ha, Ed Biggs, Gaz Coombes, I Should Coco, In It For The Money, Life On Other Planets, Mick Quinn, Road To Rouen, Rob Coombes, Supergrass, We Are Strange In Our Worlds
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