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…

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