Supergrass: Life on Other Planets (Island)

Supergrass draws heavily on influences from the late ’60s and early ’70s, but revisits them through years of punk and Britpop, infusing old styles with more modern ideas and attitudes.

As soon as I saw the cover of Supergrass’s fourth album, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. The collage of high-contrast images topped by a tidy rainbow screamed “’70s rock revival!” As much as I like Supergrass, after several years’ deluge of bands revisiting ’70s rock (many of which, like the Strokes and Sloan, I really like), I couldn’t help but find myself wanting to hear something a little different. Fortunately, a few listens to Life on Other Planets alleviated any concerns or grumbling the artwork brought forth (bonus points for anyone who can identify all 12 fonts on the back).

With that in mind, on my first listen, I kept asking, “Who does this song sound like?” I detected tributes to Marc Bolan on “Za” and “Seen the Light,” and the jaunty outro tacked onto “Evening of the Day” was like a Beatles novelty tune, but I couldn’t always figure it out. So I polled a friend, who said, “This sounds like Supergrass.” I realized he was right. Supergrass draws heavily on influences from the late ’60s and early ’70s, but revisits them through years of punk and Britpop, infusing old styles with more modern ideas and attitudes. The more successful graduates of the everything-old-is-new-again school of music do more than simply copy their influences; they add what their influences couldn’t have done and graciously omit what their influences shouldn’t have done. If we must go retro, we should have a band like Supergrass leading the way.

Still, I stand corrected; Life on Other Planets is a Supergrass revival. While their self-titled release from 1999 dabbled in pensive reflection and musical maturity, this album returns mostly to the loud, summery, smart-assed rock on In It for the Money. The new single, “Rush Hour Soul,” embodies a sound that may someday be called “classic Supergrass,” a fast-tempo guitar song complete with hand claps and that distinctive three-part harmony. “Can’t Get Up” offers another pleasant helping of the same. When Gaz, Danny, and Mick combine their voices, it produces some of the best harmonies since the Beach Boys (uh, that is, before “Kokomo”).

Introspection has been tossed out this time in favor of youthful insolence. Two of the songs (“La Song” and “Za”) are named after syllables sung in the chorus. The short and distorted “Never Done Nothing Like That Before” resurrects the snottiness that marked I Should Coco. Meanwhile, deliciously cheesy effects pop up all over the place, on the verge of becoming annoying, which is probably what they intended.

Unlike prior albums, Life on Other Planets maintains a fast pace all the way through, choosing to place its slow numbers at the very end. “Prophet 15” is a Wings-style, nonsensical angst anthem, complete with prog-rock synth noodling, and “Run” hearkens back to the slower songs on Supergrass.

Overall, Supergrass has decided that they’re not in a big rush to mature, but without necessarily regressing. And it works. Don’t be scared by the cover.

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