Beneath the mutton-chops, the Chopper bikes and the cartoon-like image, Supergrass always possessed hidden depths. They may have been most famous for their terrific singles, but anyone who searched a bit deeper would have found some surprises.
One of their most underrated albums, Road To Rouen, contained some of Supergrass’ most contemplative and darkest material. Rather unjustly, it was one of their lowest selling records, but it’s testament to Gaz Coombes’ willingness to break away from the Supergrass era that it’s Road To Rouen that’s most reminiscent of his first solo record.
There’s also vague hints of another famous band to come from Oxford scattered throughout Here Come The Bombs. Indeed, at times, it’s as if Jonny Greenwood and Philip Selway have been arranging songs for Coombes, so close to the Radiohead ship does it sail.
This is no bad thing of course, and the album’s more reflective tracks suit Coombes well. Opening track Bombs layers eerie electronica over some scattered drumbeats, but it’s lead single Hot Fruit that really kicks the album off, a blistering, urgent anthem that recalls one of Supergrass’ finest moments, Richard III.
There are more Radiohead hints on both Sub-Divider and Universal Cinema – tension-fuelled songs powered along by a jittery bassline and shifting time signatures. There’s even a hint of Metronomy to the synth-led, near spoken word Fanfare, and the surprise of some ’80s disco on Break The Silence.
Yet despite all this experimentation, Coombes hasn’t forgotten what made him so special in the first place. Both the aforementioned Hot Fruit, Simulator and Whore are stomping great pop songs with trademark Coombes choruses custom-built to sing along to, while White Noise is sad, beautiful and contemplative, with a tear-jerking chorus of “I get lonely and you’re all I got”.
These aren’t conventional guitar pop songs though, as in the days of Alright and Mansize Rooster. Even a straightforward track like Simulator jumps about all over the place, and each track on the album seems to hold a different surprise. This isn’t conventional pop, but Coombes has pulled off the tricky job of being accessible while losing none of the intrigue.
Supergrass rather sadly fizzled out, with their final album Release The Drones remaining unreleased in a record company vault somewhere, followed by the entertaining if somewhat lightweight side-project of The Hot Rats. By contrast, Here Comes The Bombs is an impossibly refreshing new direction – the sound of a man revitalised and back on form.