“3 days I’ll be out of here and it’s not a moment too soon” laments Gaz, and so current single ‘St Petersburg’ begins. As throughout he whole of this album, Gaz’s vocals take a dreamy back seat to the emphasis on the heads-down jamming instrumentation, coupled with strident strings sweeping in and out of the verses. ‘St Petersburg’ is Radio 2 friendly: not in a soulless way like the bored pseudo-Sixties monotony of The Stands, but in terms of ‘St Petersburg’s’ simple melodies and effortless accessibility. Taking us in a different direction, title track ‘Road to Rouen’ is Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Pusherman’ and a strong contender for a Blaxploitation soundtrack. This is TV cop chase music with a police siren incorporated into the mix and an ideal complement to the Beastie Boy’s Sabotage video.
On Road to Rouen’s opening track ‘Tales of Endurance (Parts 4, 5 & 6)’ the filmic influences of the Coen Brothers raise their bespectacled heads. Bluegrass strumming takes precedent, ever threatening to kick into the Soggy Bottom Boys ‘I am a Man of Constant Sorrow’, but then after two minutes of instrumental jamming, Gaz’s vocals hit home, the brass section wails, the guitars step it up a notch and suddenly it’s Sixties rock n roll meeting the blues down a desolate back road, the sounds of The Dude’s favourite band Creedence Clearwater Revival shimmering in the distance.
‘Sad Girl’ drags the listener closer to the present with some late Nineties indie melancholy which is fed through the melodies of a Fender Rhodes electric piano. Adored by soul, funk and jazz lovers, the Rhodes has been amply used by Herbie Hancock, George Benson, on Jamiroquai’s Emergency on Planet Earth and erm, by the Brand New Heavies. ‘‘Kick in the Teeth’ is Road to Rouen’s other contemporary offering that also plunders the Grass’ back catalogue. Evocative of both 2002’s Life on Other Planets ‘Grace’ in Gaz’s vocals and 1997’s In it for the Money’s ‘Richard IIIrd’ on guitar, ‘Kick in the Teeth’ and ‘Sad Girl’ don’t quite fit on the album as a whole, their outsider status chanelled through their very moderness in an album obsessed with the Fifties and Sixties. Despite this, neither song is a dud, something which can also be said of the album as a whole – a rare and sought after attribute.
Four decades are straddled between ‘Fin and ‘Coffee in the Pot’. The latter is an instrumental Fifties novelty number where The Shadows’s ‘Apache’ goes even heavier on the whammy bar to some crazed hula hula sounds; whereas on the former Gaz goes all chilled-out Billy Corgan on us. He’s laid back and dreamy, but soulful and vehement, much like Corgan on the simple and stripped back ‘We only come out at night’ from The Smashing Pumpkins 1995 opus Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
The Beatles have continued to exert an ever-stronger influence over the ‘Grass since they ground the teenage punk tones of ‘I should Coco’ into dust. Road to Rouen is smitten by Let it Be and Sergeant Pepper. In its most simple form Rouen’s ‘Roxy’ is a basic guitar pop song, but is then laden with layers of Phil Spector strings and gorgeous instrumentation. Both ‘Roxy’ and ‘Low C’ – with the Lennon echoing vocals “the loneliness at times/I can hear it override/I can wander through the past/and believe it for a while” – are unadulterated late Sixties Beatles, the former track’s string heavy crescendo resonating strongly with ‘Day in the Life’ epic conclusion. In a word, it couldn’t be any more Beatles if George Martin had produced it.
However, these references to every music lover’s supergroup draw no parallels with the hallf-assed facsimilie of Oasis, whose thick-eyebrowed, lurching failure of a career has to date spanned twice that of their idols and produced not one iota, not one sniff of a truly classic pop song. Instead, comparisons lie between the ability of both the Beatles and Supergrass to produce strong and spectacular songs that have (or will) stand the test of time, to experiment across the entire landscape of their musical tastes and very, very rarely put a foot wrong.
Road To Rouen coalesces the sounds of the Sixties, rock, blues and soul together in an informal relaxed environment. It is the sound of friends jamming together and enjoying being musicians, rather than some stilted and overworked producer-heavy package with more than one eye on chart success. Supergrass has taken these key moments in the development of popular music to immensely develop their sound and stretch it out oh-so-far-beyond ‘Alright’. They do this with assured panache, resulting in a confident and accomplished addition to their evermore extensive oeuvre.
Road to Rouen (2005)
Genre: Indie Rock
Record Label: Parlophone