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Supergrass makes a giant
leap forward on

Road to Rouen (Capitol)


More often than not, the fifth-sixth-seventh album
phase of a band's career winds up disappointing,
even for some of the great bands of the world. The
youthful energy escapes with the never-ending
march of time and is replaced with a world-weary
professionalism that makes for good, but not
tantalizing, records. Many of the greats fall into this.
The Who had noticeably lost an edge by the time of
Who Are You, their seventh studio record; Led
Zeppelin were a far different band by the time of
Presence; and so on.
This isn’t always the case, though. Some bands take totally unexpected leaps into the unknown, with absolutely
no warning to the listener as to what lies ahead. It’s here we find Supergrass. Though they’ve hinted at a rising
maturity since
In it for the Money, the jump they make on Road to Rouen is startling.

Through each album, Supergrass has changed a bit for the better, displaying a tighter, more experimental song
craft while keeping a hint at the manic punk that broke them and drove them in the first place. In more subtle
songs like “Pumping on Your Stero,” for example, remained a hint of “Mansize Rooster.” This made their catalog
sound very linear — you could line up their albums in your player end-to-end for one mega album and have
mesh surprisingly well. That might not work anymore if one were to add
Road to Rouen to the mix.

Kicking it all off is “Tales of Endurance (Parts 4, 5 & 6),” a deep, involved blend of strings, acoustic guitars and
abstract lyrics that sounds worlds away from
Life on Other Planets, the band’s previous album. They’ve been
experimental, sure, but here they create a soundscape that would’ve been right at home on a Beatles album had
the band continued after
Abbey Road and Let it Be. It’s lush and full, but never pretentious — it maintains the
edge of their best work.

The first hint of what could’ve been the more logical step in the Supergrass evolution shows up on “Roxy,” which
has more of a rock feel but still expands far beyond three chords and an attitude. On “Road to Rouen,” Gaz
Coombes’ voice returns somewhat to the nasal warble that is oh-so familiar, backed by a vicious riff, and “Kick in
the Teeth” would’ve sounded right at home on last year’s
Supergrass is 10 compilation, but it’s not as basic as
that. There’s down moments, stops and starts, all which I imagine would sound wicked live. There’s a natural
dynamic to the music that creates tension, more so than on anything they’ve done before.

They’ve kept their sense of humor, too. The instrumental “Coffee in the Pot” serves as an intermission between
the two halves of the record, the latter being in more of the rock vein with the first acting as definitely more
challenging than expected.

The good bands always keep the listener on their toes. Even if
Road to Rouen isn’t an obvious knockout, it’s one
of the most engaging and intriguinging listens of the year. This one is destined to show up on a few “best of the
year” lists at the end of the year. So find out what the fuss is about before the fuss is made.