As one gets older, how the hands of time seem to move far more quickly than they did in youth. Why this is so I can’t explain. I’m sure no-one can, except perhaps physicists and philosophers, not to mention those who obviously have nothing better to do than sit up late at night writing hysterically on their blog. However with age and experience, one tends to wish the clock would tick more slowly, in order to give oneself pause to reflect, and in the process of doing so, wonder what’s it all about.
Road to Rouen, Supergrass’ fifth LP, was perhaps the band’s most mature and reflective outing up to that point. The death of Gaz and Rob Coombes’ mother must have obviously been a contributing factor in determining the overall mood of the album. Sessions took place at St. Mard studios, a converted barn in Rouen, located in rural Normandy, which meant that they were living and recording in relative isolation compared to their previous records.
“Tales of Endurance (Parts 4, 5 & 6)” begins with a driving acoustic guitar, along with a little atmospheric steel and piano, however it isn’t long before the song is interrupted intermittently by a full-on brass section, after which it slows down to a conventional rock beat, with Gaz singing about “commercial suicide” along with a few other personal diary entries. The rock-shuffle of “St. Petersburg” is shear pop perfection. However the song itself comes and goes all too soon, like a passing dream one can’t remember but hope will come again. The Beatles-inspired “Sad Girl” could easily have been a track off Abbey Road, with its pensive, melancholy late ‘60s ambiance.
“Roxy” has its moments, although is less successful, at least as a pop song, however the good news is that after the four minute mark, the song somehow transforms into an all out phased out cosmic jam. “Coffee in the Pot” is a cute Parisian-oriented instrumental, perhaps as a way of offering the listener a toilet break. The title track certainly deserves repeated listens; because the more one listens the more one hears. If ever David Bowie and Jimmy Page had of collaborated together in the late ‘70s, it might have sounded something like this.
The 1970’s pop-rock styling continues on the upbeat “Kick in the Teeth”, a song full of wobbly sound effects and good ol’ fashioned 1960’s garage sounding guitar. The mysteriously titled “Low C” is another Beatles influenced number, although in the best possible way, and establishes Gaz as a master of melody, in a Ray Davies kind of fashion. “Fin” is a floaty piece that drifts into your ear, soothes the old synapses, and then dissipates out the other, as if the song itself had never happened.
35 minutes might somewhat short by today’s standards, however for a band such as Supergrass, I’d say that they got it right. Road to Rouen is an eccentric, as well as diverse document of hard rock with a healthy dose of English pastoral beauty thrown in for good measure. Sometimes one needs to slow down and meditate on what’s important, and deliberate on one’s past and future. There’s no sin in slowing down, much less being afraid of feeling maudlin.