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In many ways, the guys in Supergrass are the Britpop superstars who best embody the youthfulness and positivity supporters generally claim for the movement. Their debut album, I Should Coco, offered “Alright,” as purely feel-good an anthem as the current crop of bands has written. Another song complained about girls who won’t hold hands, and two more giddily fantasized about hanging out with “the strange ones.” The group’s cartoonish enthusiasm even attracted Steven Spielberg, who is said to have offered the band a TV series.
Two years later, the members of Supergrass are still in their early 20s (in spirit, at leastfrontman Gaz Coombes and drummer Dan Goffey are literally in that range; bassist Mick Quinn is 27), but they’re eager to let us know they’ve grown. Their follow-up to Coco, In It for the Money, does contain “Tonight,” an unambiguous anthem to partying. At the same time, while the band hasn’t transformed itself into an earnest outfit like the Manic Street Preachers, Money’s more measured approach is accompanied by a heightened sense of drama, if not a newfound gravity. Small helpings of horns and keyboards aid in communicating a finesse, even on a raver like “Richard III,” that the earlier record barely acknowledged. While the acoustic guitar-based “Late in the Day” is burdened by lines about “searching my mind,” Supergrass’ larger passions are successfully communicated on “Sun Hits the Sky”which, tellingly, is more rocking.
This is, after all, Supergrass, and the band members’ self-deprecating sense of humor is still in force on Money (in the CD booklet, a potted plant is depicted as the fourth member of Supergrass; in actuality, it’s Coombes’ older brother, keyboardist Bob). They’re amused at the iconic status of both themselves and their peers in England, advising in “You Can See Me” that “if you like me, you can buy me and take me home” and taking what seems to be a wry shot at Oasis in the title track. Busking on Money’s front cover and thanking “a bloke I met in the pub the other day,” the Supergrassers are both studiedly everyday-bloke and deep of heart.
Audacity has been a hallmark of the most British of British rockers since the days when John Lennon called modern-day Christianity into question and Mick Jagger posited himself the proper heir of Oscar Wilde (Morrissey would later follow suit). In this mad tradition comes Mansun, the brainchild and vehicle of singer Paul Draper, who’s credited with “all music and words” and production on the band’s debut, Attack of the Grey Lantern. As over the top sonically and emotionally as fans of Queen and the Smiths might agree a record should be, Grey Lantern is replete with backward cymbal whooshes, tons of synthesizer washes (everything from fake string sections to ’70s-ish swoops and whooshes), soaring guitars, sound effects, and linking bits between tracks. (In addition to the synths, there is a credit for real string arrangements on two cuts.) And that’s just the music. With calculatedly suggestive song titles like “The Chad Who Loved Me”Mansun’s lead guitarist is one Dominic Chadand a decidedly fey sensibility, Draper pushes some obvious buttons, though the results are sometimes too hilarious to resist.
Whether Draper’s lyrics live up to his sonic playfulness, their free-associated, glam-inspired surfaces are just the right noise to stand up to the trickery. While a phrase like Attack of the Grey Lantern suggests a concept album fueled by comic books and ancient mythology, songs like “Taxloss,” about a kept lover, are as up to the minute as, if colder than, the Pet Shop Boysone more obvious influence.
Everything here isn’t as successful; for every mix of androgynous harmonies and mock pomposity like “Wide Open Space,” there’s an unforgivably smarmy moment like Draper’s Gary Kemp tribute on the chorus of “Disgusting.” The would-be audacity of Mansun’s leader also fails him on the borrowed hiphopisms that open “Mansun’s Only Love Song” before the group reconnects with the fey pop it’s more comfortable with and adept at. And while “Take It Easy, Chicken” is a well-executed Stone Roses cop, the same can’t be said for the irritating “Egg Shaped Fred,” a perfunctory nod to “Fool’s Gold.” And of course Attack of the Grey Lantern meets the requirement that it end with a turgid eight-minute ballad, “Dark Mavis.” When that song’s coda refers to the album’s start, however, it’s only natural to hit “replay” for a second listen to the lusciously orchestrated “Chad.”
Creation Records is making much of the punk roots of 3 Colours Red, a London band signed in the wake of the company’s massive success as the home of Oasis. Indeed, the band’s debut, Pure, is much heavier freight than usual for the totemic indie-pop imprint.
The members of 3 Colours Red aren’t dumb, but they don’t mind begging the question by, first, naming themselves for part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film trilogy, then denying that they’ve ever seen it. One Pure song, “Nuclear Holiday,” convincingly celebrates mindless aggro, but this quartet spends much of its time railing against familiar targetsTV (“Alright Ma”), faceless city life (“Mental Blocks”), money (“the new religion,” in “Halfway Up the Downs”), love (“Aniseed”). Proving that the latter isn’t meant too seriously, “Copper Girl” pines either for a tanned American or a lady policeman.
Though a few moments of Pure explicitly recall the Clashthe mock alarm siren of “Nerve Gas,” the ambiguous drug reference in “Mental Blocks”3 Colours Red’s sense of tradition comes as much by way of 60 Ft Dolls or one-time arena hopefuls the Godfathers as from the Class of ’77. Not to say that songs like “This Is My Hollywood” or “Sunny in England” don’t bring “Remote Control” or “In the City” to mind, or that they shouldn’t. In fact, it’s only when 3 Colours Red gets too ambitious, as on the acoustic ballad “Fit Boy + Faint Girl,” that the record encourages a yawn and a reach for the television listings.CP