With enough musical substance to leave its vapour trails hanging in the sky for hours afterwards, this magnificent record is the finest achievement of the Supergrass frontman’s solo career so far
When Supergrass reformed for a live tour early in 2020, the feeling was that of a British national treasure finally getting the acclaim they deserved. While it proved a welcome tonic for the band members, it also threw into context just how much Gaz Coombes had moved on as an individual in that time.
Coombes, three albums into an all-encompassing solo career, was compelled to write songs while the band toured, honing them back at base when the pandemic hit, then calling in his own live band for creative assistance in the studio.
Emerging back into the light, he has a fine album to show for his endeavours – musically and emotionally his strongest to date. There is a compelling urgency to his delivery, borne of experience but also illustrating how music continues to be less a diversion, more a necessity.
This much is clear from Overnight Trains, the heartfelt opener to Turn The Car Around. Now a father, the singer who “lost control, hit a wall” in 1995 has moved on by a generation. As he paints a fireside setting of relative domestic bliss, Coombes appreciates the contentment – but beneath the surface a restless, burning emotion kindles. Making itself known through an arching melody, the voice is as powerful as ever, piano harmonies twisting and turning beneath as the heightened feelings coarse through the music.
Relationships are a central theme to the album. This Love talks of a romance along the lines of Romeo and Juliet, “except we both survive”. That love is further put to the test in Sonny The Strong, emerging all the stronger from a wartime experience. Coombes invests himself fully in the storytelling, while the music draws from older British songsmiths such as Ray Davies or early Roy Wood, while putting its own individual spin on proceedings to continue looking forward.
Not The Only Things addresses the generational gap once more. An imagined conversation with his autistic elder daughter, it is a wholly positive look at the world through her eyes, appreciating the challenges facing the youth of today. Coombes’ younger daughter, meanwhile, provided him with the inspiration for Long Live The Strange when she took him along to a Cavetown gig in Oxford. The song has a thumbs-in-braces gait familiar to Supergrass fans, but it could not be anything other than a Coombes solo as it becomes an ode to individual identity, a celebration of being different rather than grudging inclusion.
This maturity spreads through the album, Coombes also harnessing the lessons of the pandemic to show how taking stock and slowing down is a good thing. The title track preaches from the top, but Coombes never looks down to his audience – he is there singing alongside them, recognising the challenges. “There’s just some days you feel like going back, but the only way is straight ahead beyond the edge”, he sings in the meaningful closer Dance On.
It may be relatively short but Turn The Car Around has enough musical substance to leave its vapour trails hanging in the sky for hours afterwards. It is the finest achievement of Coombes’ solo career so far, a magnificent record – and the feeling still persists that there is more to come.