Britpop: Supergrass and I Should Coco at 20

Supergrass I Should Coco

It couldn’t be a worse time of year, I Should Coco is all about the summer of ’95 right? But no. It’s alright. After all, Caught by the Fuzz was originally released in autumn 2004. And today’s ‘wear your old band t-shirt to work’ day. And the now sadly dis- band have chosen today to release the remastered 20th anniversary special edition of their seminal debut. So that makes this the perfect day for Jokerside to salute Supergrass’ debut! Alright?

I DON’T KNOW WHEN I RELALISED JUST HOW GOOD I SHOULD COCO IS. I REMEMBER THE SUMMER LIGHT WAS FADING. AND THOUGH I CAN’T QUITE REMEMBER THE METHOD –WALKMAN SEEMS LIKELY – I DO VAGUELY REMEMBER THE STRETCH OF A PARTICULAR PARK. NEAR A COLLEGE CAMPUS, NOT MINE. Unfortunately that memory wouldn’t place it in 1995. No, I fully switched on to Supergrass with the release of their second album In It for the Money – or the release of the first single from that follow up, 1996’s Going Out.

I remember hearing the band interviewed by Steve Lamacq during or just before those In It For the Money recording sessions. I suppose backstage at the ’96 Mercury Music Prize, when they promised a more mature sound… And for once, that wasn’t a deflecting description. I didn’t really have the comparison beyond its predecessor’s singles at the time, but every part of In it for the Money dripped quality and confidence – it had a huge, solid sound that as it happened perfectly extended their bombastic debut while sparking it off in a myriad new directions. As I soon found out.

While In it for the Money had a slight melancholy, there it is on the cover of what’s their autumn album (released in the spring), I Should Coco was their defiantly summer LP. Although of course, that was recorded in the cold of the preceding winter in Cornwall.

“We honed the songs so they were short and full of energy and life”

That’s how Danny Goffey described it. It was some times before I took in the scrappier, more joyful, more vital and generally more pop punk I Should Coco. The moment it hit, that late afternoon, walking that path. Singles. Single after single. It was dripping in them. As much as the sun, as much as Britpop, as much as growing up, as much as sideburns.

Gaz Coombes recently declared there to be only a few great Britpop bands, and that much has been clear for a long time. But amid the heavyweight scrapping and flash in the pan chancers, wasters, lapsed shoe gazer and label hangers, Supergrass still stick out as the buzzing three piece from 95’s Summer of Britpop. In that leaner year than the fuller market of ‘96, they were the freshest and most alive during the fleeting movement that was always obtusely dipping in dolefulness. Oh, there are rock, riffs and darkness in I Should Coco, but also great peaks of vitality that brought the band crashing to widespread attention. It’s at the punk end of the spectrum – fast, three chord, break-neck – but that can’t disguise countless nods to an extraordinary number of other styles and English bands, from the rock pop of the Kinks to the ska infusion of Madness.

I Should Coco by the numbers

“1, 2… 1, 2, 3, 4”

I’d Like to know, the album opener sets the agenda, almost by accident. It’s Gaz Coombes’ extraordinary and distinctive voice that steals the show, against thundering high tempo rock, with high pass backing vocals and a tendency to reach ear-piercing peaks and then surpass them. There’s a huge amount going on in this record. In a peculiar way, before the androgyny of glam and Bowie had fully swept into to fill out Britpop’s sixties fixation, it’s not genderless but it’s rather sexless – there’s nothing that sums the band up as a macho three-piece. As the long chords hang and tempos shift up and down with incredible speed, there’s the mantra – the call to arms to follow the strange right there.

I’d Like to know break, brings the instrumental of blistering chords and percussion that really shows what Supergrass could do. It’s the third longest song on the album thanks to that long and anthemic coda. And it ends on a sample of crashing waves, percussion thumping away… Until it hits the chord wall called Caught By the Fuzz. The single that was originally intended to have I’d Like to Know as its b‑side to. On the album, the difference is instant, as if this is the point where the album begins proper. The themes of the first song will be picked up later, but now’s there’s an even more singular tune, again first person and arguably the bands most daring – all based on an incident from young Coombes’ real-life. There’s the distorted vocals until the almost unbearable, reaching chorus. It’s frenetic and immediate. This is what arrived in 1994, a little presumptuously controversial than Supergrass would prove to be. It’s what caught their first attention. From bikers, as bassist Mick Quinn once said. Alright is mildy more reserved in its sortie through teenage life, but then it’s the carefree romp that comes before the claustrophobic rock of Caught by the Fuzz. And Alright’s video did much to create Supergrass’ New Monkees image. It was the hair right? Must be the hair. Because Supergrass were far more distinctive, talented and original than that comparison or Spielberg’s pitch of a television series suggests. Read more…

Blur: The Magic Whip Reviewed

Blur The Magic Whip Review

As the UK goes to the vote, Blur’s The Magic Whip sits atop the album chart just as it should. Repeated listens reveal that Graham Coxon may just be right in calling it the group’s finest album.

THERE’S LITTLE JOKERSIDE ENJOYS MORE THAN A COMPARISSON, BUT THIS ONE IS POETICALLY GIFTWRAPPED FOR TWO OF THE GREATEST BRITISH FOUR-PIECE BANDS IN BRITISH HISTORY. You can probably guess both by now. In the winter of 1969 the Beatles, already strained from their recent White Album sessions, were quickly encouraged into a new recording marathon by Paul McCartney. The idea behind what was intended to produce the Get Back sessions, was live jamming, returning to the band’s live and productive roots, free from the artifice of their last few album. Oh, and under the constant surveillance of documentary cameras. It seems inevitable now that, despite the new talent that came in behind the organ and recording desk to bolster the Fab Four and loyal producer George Martin, those sessions resulted in the band’s darkest days. Members lost then retrieved, the album shelved. And it still wasn’t over. We’re fortunate that all Beatles soon regrouped to record the disparate but altogether more friendly Abbey Road Sessions. But their split was all the more painful when John Lennon stole off to producer Phil Spector with the tapes that would be reassembled for the Let It Be album, eventually emerging a month after the pre-eminent force in pop music ended in 1970.

Jump forward four decades and history repeated. But this time it wasn’t the rhythm guitarist but the lead guitarist of a British four-piece who snuck off to a producer with the band’s jamming sessions. This time it was a member who had seemingly, impossibly, emerged from a prolonged departure from his band, not one heading into definite hiatus. And he even had the blessings of his band-mates. And this time, those tapes (if only they still were) weren’t gifted to a left-field originator of anything like the wall of sound; they found their way back to Stephen Street, the producer as indelibly linked to Blur as George Martin was to the Beatles.

So, it’s a safe bet Damon Albarn won’t be releasing The Magic Whip Naked in three decades time – although that certainly may play well in some markets.

What’ve You Got?

The Magic Whip is an album that rewards over time. It’s a difficult, awkward child in many ways – and one that could be forgiven for feeling unwanted. The reports following Blur’s ad hoc recording session in Hong Kong in May 2013 weren’t optimistic, with fans consoling themselves that at least the band had stepped into a studio for longer than one song. But that time, it turned out, was just too short. Albarn lamented that lyrics hadn’t been laid down at the time and so those jamming sessions – the band’s primary style of recording since 1997’s Blur – seemed destined to drift away. Until Stephen Street and Coxon did their magic. Some London additions from the four-piece later, some lyrics topped up by Albarn taking another stop-over in Hong Kong later… And earlier this year the band, and particularly Albarn, found themselves rather surprisingly announcing a new LP. And the result, although it shouldn’t be surprising, is that The Magic Whip is a unifying triumph that rubs in how difficult that star shaped hole has been to fill in the 16 years since the four-piece last recorded an album together. Read more…

Blur: 12 of the best post-Britpop

Blur Post-Britpop - Coffee and TV

A year ago Jokerside celebrated the 20th anniversary of Parklife with a terrible commemorative re-writing of THAT song. Now, nearly 20 years after Blur made their Britpop swansong, 12 years after their last album, they return with their fourth ‘-post’ effort. So, now they’re undeniably less of a Britpop band then they were, what have they really done in the intervening two decades?

IT’S ALMOST 20 YEARS SINCE THEIR LAST BRITPOP RELEASE, ABOUT 16 SINCE THEIR LAST ALBUM AS A FOURPIECE, BUT BLUR HAVE STILL MANAGED TO PACK A BIT IN. THREE SEMINAL ALBUMS IN FACT. The game changing eponymous album released less than two years after The Great Escape, the mystical and Gorillaz unleashing 13 and then, with a four year gap and one of the four departed, the soft oddity Think Tank. Post-Britpop Blur may not have been quite as consistent as during the first four albums, but with the eighth out today it’s clear that the turbulence saw them produce some of their greatest tracks.

If there’s an adage that’s come out of The Magic Whip coverage it’s that the older the Blur album, the more you can write about it. Or perhaps, the more you need to write about it. That’s partly down to the fact that every paragraph has to begin with variations of “Jettisoning” ‘Abandoning” and “Dispensing” alongside “Britpop persona”. But now, 15 years into the 21st century, Blur have definitely tipped the balance. And fundamentally Think Tank is far more interesting than Parklife. Blur’s canvas has massively enhanced with each difficult and different album. And it’s not as simple as third person stereotypes making way for first person observation or losing their guitarist. Much of the time Blur’s music remains remarkably consistent, just interpreted and broadened by high production at different times and different places, and crucially by increasingly more accomplished and motivated musicians (People. Of. The. World). As a result Lonesome Road, the third single from The Magic Whip, can merrily sit side to side with 1993’s For Tomorrow as not only an unmistakable Blur song but a fine companion piece.

But before the new album, here’s a look at 12 Blur tracks that came after they “Removed themselves from Britpop”. Not the 12 best, but 12 of the best from the last 19 years that tell a story of one of Britain’s finest bands. Read more…

Britpop: One year in – Blur’s Great Britpop Escape

Britpop and Blur's The Great Escape

This month marks 19 years since Blur’s The Great Escape was released. While it would continue for several years, the four-piece’s fourth album would prove their personal swansong to the Britpop movement they had unwittingly ushered in with Parklife a year previously. It’s no secret that this isn’t their best regarded album, but could it be their most prescient?

AND AS SOON AS IT ARRIVED IT WAS TRYING TO SELF-DESTRUCT. BRITPOP WASN’T BRITISH AS MUCH AS ENGLISH. IT WASN’T THE EPITOME OF THE 1990S EITHER, BUT IT NEVER CONSCIOUSLY INTENDED TO BE. Its roots were either far too contemporary or too based in the 1960s, dependent on your view point, to do that. But in the summer of 1995, while Britpop crammed Chris Evan’s Radio 1 Breakfast Show it also captured a space in the six o’clock news as Oasis and Blur went head to head. That was the first skirmish in a long fight, as the two biggest bands of the era released much anticipated follow-ups, with all record labels, regions and single-buyers pitting the two against each other at any opportunity. There was never any doubt who’d win that opening parry, no matter the host of conspiracy theories. But then it was a poor race; Country House was simply the least worse of the two songs. Oasis justly won the subsequent album war of ’95 with their second album, the seminal What’s the Story (Morning Glory), while Blur’s fourth, The Great Escape, was picked apart and within just a few years had became synonymous with a sea-change for the band. That same strain was natural, and would start to affect Oasis as they record the bloated Be Here Now the following year.

Read more…

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