The Press Article
Life On Other Planets

"He's so stoned, doesn't even know what he's on about," murmurs Gaz Coombes of Supergrass on the spaced-out ending of "Evening of the Day," as the rest of the band plays congas and indulges in some off-key whistling. "Maybe he should go and lay down." It's easy to not take Brit-rock quartet Supergrass seriously on their fourth album, Life on Other Planets: Scattered throughout the rest of the disc are chirping birds, bleating sheep, Munchkin choirs, fumbled tambourines and an Elvis imitator. As a matter of fact, American listeners have succeeded in not taking Supergrass seriously since they debuted eight years ago -- or, even worse, haven't paid any attention at all. Underestimate them at your peril. Supergrass are among the best of a long line of U.K. eccentrics -- stretching from the Kinks to Robyn Hitchcock to the Beta Band -- who make rock music giddy enough to entice the easily bored and preoccupy headphone obsessives for hours. In the glory days of the mid-Nineties Brit-pop explosion, these youths from Oxford first brought their pumped-up, punked-out take on that tradition of eccentricity with a hyper debut single, "Caught by the Fuzz."

On Life on Other Planets, Supergrass are still chasing the promise of that 1994 fire-starter, and this time they nearly fulfill it. The quartet's appeal lies in its ability to sound rambunctious and just a little ramshackle without stinting on craft. The songs rarely seem overly meticulous or fussy -- even though they were almost definitely meticulously fussed over. And Life on Other Planets lasts only forty-one minutes, the dozen songs packed to bursting with the tension of too many ideas and too little time. Supergrass combine a taste for Seventies rock (glam, Paul McCartney, Electric Light Orchestra) with the punk holy trinity of speed, noise and more speed. On "Za," they bang a gong as if they were channeling the late glam imp Marc Bolan, and then rev up from a swagger to a sprint on "Rush Hour Soul." The album's first great moment hits during the song's coda, an extended drone disrupted by a guitar riff dressed in T. Rex drag. The album's sequencing is one of its central strengths: Just as things start to sag nine songs in, the wavy guitars and jabbering piano of "Grace" arrive, along with a shout-from-the-rooftops chorus. "Run" provides an excellent exit strategy -- it's an extended piece of dream-pop with undulating waves of keyboards and blissed-out harmonies that fade to silence, only to return -- an endless loop of burbling synthesizers that echoes the album's opening seconds.

Life doesn't quite add up to a classic: "Prophet 15" couldn't be more derivative of Paul McCartney's "Let 'Em In" if it applied for a Wings fan-club membership, and the wooden ska of "Brecon Beacons" and the faux hillbilly swing of "Evening of the Day" suggest a band trying on uniforms that don't quite fit. "Never Done Nothing Like That Before" compresses pummeling piano and overtaxed guitars into 103 giddy seconds in which Supergrass sound as if they're talking to themselves in the mirror: "You don't know what you're talking about." Supergrass' lack of commitment can get wearisome, and Life suffers without a guiding sense of personality, a point of view. Though Coombes and his bandmates can write instantly catchy pop songs, they could use a little bit of the vision evinced by more celebrated Brit contemporaries such as Blur's Damon Albarn, Pulp's Jarvis Cocker or Radiohead's Thom Yorke. Indeed, one senses that Coombes abhors such figurehead status, since he spends much of Life singing about his lack of ambition. On "Can't Get Up," Supergrass come closer to revealing what makes them tick: "I'm just living a story/Like I heard it on a 45." Next time, if they can get out from under their imposing record collections, Supergrass could make the ambitious and completely realized power-pop masterpiece that has always appeared to be their destiny. It seems closer now: If they pull it off, Life on Other Planets will have been the stepping stone.
(3 stars)

Greg Kot, Rolling Stone - 20 February 2003