Supergrass’s sixth studio album in 13 years is – like most of their previous albums – a decent effort but nothing special. Better known as a singles band, they once again come up with some undeniably catchy tunes without knowing quite how to develop them beyond the standard three-minute pop structure. Diamond Hoo Ha is ‘alright’ but not especially memorable.
With Oasis, the only Britpop survivors, Supergrass have struggled to throw off the image of chirpy, cheeky chipmunks since they burst engagingly onto the scene in the mid-’90s. Their breezily humorous, high-spirited persona is fun though musically lightweight. Their songs have instant appeal but all too often are instantly forgettable too, like some disposable bubblegum punk where the sweet flavour fails to last.
Their previous album, Road to Rouen (2005), with its more subtle, acoustic-folksy quality, was seen by some as evidence that the band had ‘grown up’, by others as a Big Mistake. Diamond Hoo Ha, if not a return to form, certainly revisits the glam rock sound the band has flirted with successfully before. Produced with plenty of glitz by Nick Launay (Arcade Fire, Nick Cave), the album was recorded at the legendary Hansa studios in Berlin though it is inspired not by the likes of Lust for Life or Heroes but by early David Bowie and T Rex.
It gets off to a cracking start with two already released singles. In Diamond Hoo Ha Man Gaz Coombes revels in a sleazy motel-bedroom scenario: “When the sun goes down/I just can’t resist,” he sings with lusty anticipation. Bad Blood is equally full of explosive energy, though the mood has turned sour: “This bed ain’t filled with romance/This life ain’t living/It’s screaming in my face.”
Unfortunately the promising opening then gives way to the disappointingly mediocre Rebel in You, a poor pastiche of Bowie’s Rebel Rebel. However, When I Needed You ups the ante, featuring a short blistering guitar solo from Gaz. Whilst 345 is a reminder of the band’s punk-rock roots, The Return of…, with its backing vocal harmonies, has more of a diluted ’60s feel about it.
Rough Knuckles has the driving rhythm of an early Stranglers track like Peaches, while Ghost of a Friend showcases a Mick Ronson-style guitar sound. Whiskey & Green Tea is a strange brew – screaming heavy rock with an oriental taste – as Gaz yells, “I’m being chased by a Chinese dragon”: like mixing drinks it just doesn’t work. Outside, however, boasts a rousing chorus, and Butterfly ends the album on a high note, soaring upwards.
With guitars cranked up and power chords blasting away, Diamond Hoo Ha is a dose of old-fashioned, good-time rock’n’roll, glam style. There are certainly highlights but not enough good songs to give the album a big impact overall. If it’s unlikely to make any new converts to the Supergrass fraternity, loyal fans will nonetheless be happy to pump up the stereo.