I’ll bet you thought I forgot about Supergrass, didn’t you? Well, I actually did, but not so much in this blog, I actually forgot that they existed for most of the time between the 90′s release of their self-titled album and the 2008 release of their newest album, the awesomely-named Diamond Hoo Ha. So, we should probably discuss this thing before it’s too late:
Demonstrating their British sense of spacing album releases out, after 14 years of actively being an incredible band, this is only Supergrass’ sixth album. Come on, guys, Johnny Cash put out over 20 albums in just his first 8 years, at least meet us halfway huh? Either way, the band had apparently taken the gap between their life-changing self-titled album and this one to release one incredible album that I haven’t heard yet, and one stripped-down contemplative album that I also haven’t heard but am now very interested in. In the time between 2005′s Road To Rouen and Diamond Hoo Ha, the band underwent some difficulties. For one, the Coombes’ mother died, which is a tragic thing to have happen to any writer of songs. The studio they used for the album, which once a notable studio where David Bowie had recorded, had to practically be rebuilt to accommodate the recording, which makes me curious as to why the band couldn’t just record in a working studio, but oh well.
The other thing, possibly less tragic but nonetheless a very direct distraction: the bassist fell out of a window and broke his back. Yeah, that sounds like the start of a great Rock N’ Roll story, but it turns out Mick Quinn has a bit of a problem with sleepwalking. He walked out of a first story window and broke two vertebrae and probably thought a hospital stay would be a good idea. Two of the other founding members of the band (Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey) were not too deterred, however, as they decided to go on the road, half to promote the upcoming album (which had been recorded prior to the accident) or just because they felt like making fun of the White Stripes, as a drum and guitar duo called “The Diamond Hoo Ha Men”, even going so far as to film a “mockumentary” of the experience that I doubt has come to America yet, but still. A little bit of the film can be seen here, and the band used bits of that to make their music video for the self-titled first track.
Either way, given the setbacks, I would have forgiven my favorite brit-pop rockers if they turned in an album of complete crap with “Diamond Hoo Ha Man” attached, as bigger bands have done worse, but in fact the album is really good all around, so no forgiveness needed! Apparently it’s not contrived from any of their more recent work, which I regretfully missed, and it’s certainly lacking (except for one song) that sort of “turning beautiful British melancholic tunes on their collective ear” sensibility when it came to bizarre chord progressions and adventurous tenor singing that the two albums before that contained. Thus, the only real way to compare it to any of Supergrass’ earlier work is that it’s a lot like their very first album, the wild teenage energy of I Should Coco being pushed aside for a more “mature” rock sound wherein the cheeky youth who was being busted for drugs in “Caught By The Fuzz” or crashing cars into walls in “All Right” is now a grown man for whom the drugs and cars are now a habit rather than a bit of fun.
I am not sure whether it’s intentional or not, but there is a mood cast over Diamond Hoo Ha that relentless points to vices, dangerous situations, and a kind of tiredness in Gaz’s voice where he sounds to be slurring over the night’s 35th drink. Still, layered over this, is a more pounding, rhythmic Supergrass instrument section, where the tunes are a little more standard and, well, boring in places, but the hooks are still there for the most part. In particular, “Bad Blood” has an amazing interplay between the vocal melody, the guitar counter-melody, and the bass-line even throws in another element to the tune rather than just add body to the rhythm. It’s moments like that one that really shine in this album, because there aren’t a whole lot of them.
Critically, the slurry, adult, kind of boring Supergrass have been getting a lot of flack for this album, but honestly I am fine with this thing, at least after about 5 listens. There is some variety to be heard, especially when my new-found love of David Bowie gave me kind of a “Oh I see what you did there” attitude with “Rebel In You”, which is less Kinks and more Bowie. Supergrass does “glam” really well, as they have demonstrated since the beginning, but without the actual pretense and kind of eyebrow-raising look that the glam rockers have always adopted. That’s just the thing, it’s really hard to fault Supergrass for anything, because they’re one of the few large groups that I feel have done it right. They started early with enough energy to set Godzilla on a rampage, and they matured their sound to melancholy rock magic in the very next album right around the time the singer broke the age of 20, and instead of being dragged down by predictable vices or tragedies worse than a hospital stay because of an honest accident, the band has continued on into a very comfortable middle age where they can be Hunter S. Thompson for an album before moving on to the next thing, which may be even better.
Basically, this album is worth a listen, if not for the first few tracks, which are all hits in their own right, than for the last few songs, the last of which seems to be an homage to their more traditional form of throwing out as many chords as they can whilst crooning. Supergrass is awesome, and I’m kind of glad that I realize that again when there are two more albums out there for me to find and enjoy. Until next time!