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Supergrass grows up

Supergrass - Road To Rouen
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Sept. 27, 2005

Review by Tony Bonyata

While often overshadowed by Britpop counterparts Oasis, Blur and Pulp, the English quartet Supergrass have, nonetheless, been churning out one great album after another for the last eleven years while proving themselves every bit as good, if often not better, than the aforementioned acts. This is no better illuminated than on the band's greatest hits album released last year, Supergrass Is 10 (which is as good of a place to start with the band's music - if you don't own any of their earlier material).
With a decidedly more mature outlook and approach on their fifth studio album, Road To Rouen, the foursome have toned down their spunkiness in favor of nine numbers that still yield all the pop pleasures of their past, while at the same time forging a new direction for their sound. The effort opens with an uplifting acoustic intro on "Tales of Endurance (Parts 4, 5 & 6)" which gives way to a swirling horn interlude before erupting into a swaggering blues-rock number that draws its lineage directly from both T.Rex and Muddy Waters.
While the album rarely gets thrown into fourth gear - save for the punchy "Kick In The Teeth" and spirited title track,  the quality of the compositions throughout are as stout as ever. While most Britpoppers have used The Beatles as their singular template, Supergrass' sound has always seemed more akin to The Kinks than to the Fab Four. But on Road To Rouen there are more than a couple of moments that the ghosts of John & Paul hover about (only here they sound more like the two during their early solo careers than when they were a collaborating duo). On "Low C" singer Gaz Coombes' Lennon-esqe vocal is coolly draped over the jaunty Nicky Hopkins' inspired piano-line, while on the closing track "Fin" a Ram-era McCartney delivery can be heard over the song's warm melody and underlying vibe that is slightly reminiscent of Pink Floyd. The one number that breaks free from the rest of the pack here is "Coffee In The Pot," a catchy, silly instrumental ditty that, while ultimately dispensable, is still more fun than a barrel of monkeys every time it comes percolating out of the speakers.
Despite lacking the testosterone level of previous efforts, Road To Rouen is still packed with well-written numbers all foaming at the mouth with great pop hooks, ultimately proving that it's okay to grow up.

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