Supergrass Road To Rouen
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Supergrass have a hard time coming down from their musical highs. Every time they release a giddy, irresistible pop album, they repent on the next record, crafting a moodier response. This happened with their 1995 debut, I Should Coco, which engendered two hangover records: the sprawling, ambitious, yet thrilling In It for the Money and its hazy, unfocused 1999 Supergrass, which, despite the instant glitter classic "Pumping on Your Stereo," was so scattered it sounded as if the guys weren't sure if they wanted to be a band at all anymore. They sprung back with 2002's Life on Other Planets, a truly wonderful pop album that was their best since their debut, but for 2005's Road to Rouen, they once again retreat from the bright colors and sunny melodies and turn toward darker textures. But there's a big difference here: where Supergrass drifted aimlessly, Road to Rouen is a tight, sharply focused album with purpose and momentum. It may have two long epics in the opening "Tales of Endurance, Pts. 4, 5 & 6" and "Roxy," clocking in at 5:31 and 6:17, respectively, but the record lasts just over 35 minutes, and there's a mastery of tone, as the group creates a warm, trippy, late-night vibe and then never lets it flag over the course of nine songs. They have never shown such control on a record before -- previously, their best albums were exciting because they went all over the place, and did it well -- and it's quite intoxicating to hear them ride one groove, finding different variations within it, for an entire album. And if Road to Rouen is anything, it is not monotonous -- it may be an ideal soundtrack for night, but this is hardly a one-note, self-absorbed introspective record. "Tales of Endurance" has an infectious minor-key vamp from pianist Robert Coombes, the title track is a propulsive glammy rocker, and "Kick in the Teeth" has a jangling guitar that off-sets the jazzy, lazy "St. Petersburg," the folky "Low C," and dreamy "Fin." All the songs take varying routes to the same destination, and part of the appeal of this album is that each track sounds different, yet sounds the same. Best of all, unlike that third album, this isn't a self-serious affair -- if the pun in the title itself didn't illustrate that Supergrass have retained their sense of humor, the lively instrumental throwaway "Coffee in the Pot" surely will -- and that's why this is such a terrific little record: Supergrass have found new things to do with their sound without getting self-consciously mature or middlebrow. Road to Rouen may not be a party record, but the best of bands can do any number of sounds while still sounding like themselves, and with this excellent album, Supergrass do prove that they can do exactly that.