The Britpop era continues to enjoy a rich and varied legacy, though it is interesting to note most of the main protagonists are now working predominantly as solo artists. Liam Gallagher and Noel Gallagher, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker – all were fronting bands in the mid-’90s zenith for British pop, and now they plough a more solitary furrow.
The same applies to Supergrass, with Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey enjoying richly productive stints on their own terms. Coombes excelled with Matador in 2016, receiving a Mercury Prize nomination, and on World’s Strongest Man he looks to scale comparable heights.
Once again he succeeds. Anyone who enjoyed Matador will find much to wonder at here, and repeated listening only heightens the admiration for someone who sings so directly from the heart, and enjoys a musical language free of any constraints. Coombes puts his artistic freedom to good use, and purposely avoids the temptation of bringing out an album that rages against the political climate of the day, for fear it will be rendered too dated in the future.
Instead he channels any anger and aggression into some of the driving rhythms behind the album, balancing these with moments of stark fragility. By baring his heart and soul in this way, Coombes stays on the level of his listener – but still has that star quality that makes him a compelling frontman. Wasting no time, he gets straight back to these basics on the title track, backed with a wordless chorus. Deep Pockets then renews his love for a groove of Krautrock origins, driving forward relentlessly.
Not all of the album has comparable emotional strength. Coombes lets his guard slip on several more confessional songs. Shit (I’ve Done It Again) is the most obvious of these, though Walk The Walk also exhibits greater vulnerability in its falsetto. Slow Motion Life, too, begins with confessional asides.
Yet the outcome of each of these three songs is a positive one. Slow Motion Life in particular gathers power as it goes, leading to a full bodied instrumental coda, while even such a regretful song as Shit (I’ve Done It Again) winds up noting that ‘anyone can be a star’ – and that’s taken as a positive. Walk The Walk, too, soars through its chorus as the vocal line takes flight.
Coombes keeps an imaginative ear to the ground when it comes to instrumentation, too. Oxygen Mask has some weird, disembodied violin glissandi which are rather effective, while the unexpected rhythmic impetus of The Oaks leads us back to the world of Can, a propulsive rhythm kicking in.
There is a final show of rage, Vanishing Act living on the edge as Coombes rails of how “I cannot get my fucking head straight!” Yet there is solace from his predicament in the form of Weird Dreams, despite the distant voices at the start, as though he recognises in these times it is only natural to lose the plot with the world now and then.
This is a highly accomplished and deeply felt third album to add to an already auspicious Gaz Coombes canon. He is on fine form at the moment, undoubtedly one of Britpop’s Strongest Men.