Monday, April 18, 2011

Supergrass: Road To Rouen

Every now and again, a record comes along that defies the catalog of its creator. It presents a new sound, or an old sound in a new light. Most importantly, it takes that artist to a new level, because it exposes depth in their work that had previously been absent or unknown. When we were driving from Dallas to New Orleans with an old friend, Road To Rouen was dropped in the CD player, and that's exactly what happened. The record takes the rock and roll prowess of Supergrass, and veils it a completely new feel for the band. Loaded with orchestration, acoustic guitars, and subtle production choices, the record truly opened our eyes to another side of the British three-piece.

From the opening salvos of the record, it's clear that the band is on a new track: "Tales Of Endurance (Parts 4,5 & 6) opens with a loan acoustic guitar, and builds around waves of orchestration. It's only at the three and a half minute mark that the band finally kicks into their experienced rock groove. When they finally do, it's built upon a much stronger sonic foundation that leads to an unexpected complexity. In other words: awesome.

From there, the band falls into an easy groove, with tracks that focus more on a restrained groove than on balls-to-the wall rock. "St. Petersberg" and "Sad Girl" are both keyboard driven sonic candy, and they lead easily into the record's next true rock and roll moment with "Roxy". Even at it's most rocking, the track still rests more upon orchestration and space than it does on edgy guitars.

The second half of the record opens with the campy "Coffee In The Pot", sounding like it could have easily drifted out of 1950's LA, and definitely in a good way. Ironically, the record's title track is perhaps its most rocking moment, with riffs that recall Zeppelin, and a vibe that is as straight ahead as can be. Fittingly, the next track is titled "Kick In The Teeth", and continues "Rouen"'s rocking vibe with a lead guitar line reminiscent of The Beatles' "Day Tripper" and a bridge with vocal harmonies to match.

From there the record reenters its world of self-restraint, and "Low C" and "Fin" wrap things up by returning to the album's centering sonic subtleties. It takes a great deal of talent to slow things down and still keep them interesting. Moreover, leaving behind a tried and true sonic formula is not always an effort that pays off in full. Thankfully, on Road To Rouen, it does so and then some. Supergrass manage to leave behind their aping of early 70's glam, and instead use that (along with some 60's underpinnings) as fuel for a creative fire that is clearly their own.

For many Supergrass fans, Road To Rouen was a bit of a departure, and not necessarily welcome one. The band would return to form with Diamond Hoo Ha, and later break up, never to venture into the sonic realms of Rouen again. To our ears, that's an unfortunate misstep. The record has become a regular on our playlist, and if we had a follow up, we're pretty sure it might get just as much attention. For now, we'll have to be happy with what we've got, and sit down for another listen.


Steve in Nashville said...

From the first time I heard this album I was hooked. I think this is a much overlooked record and I was surprised it did not gain much attention when it was first unleashed. Supergrass was moving further out than most of their peers and had the talent to follow through on it. "Tales of Endurance" is most brilliant.I was lucky to see the band on this tour...Nashville,TN...with a couple of hundred brave souls....I miss you Supergrass. Thanks for giving us this music that I can listen to for the rest of my life.