When Supergrass released its first single, "Caught by the Fuzz," in 1994, guitarist/vocalist Gaz Coombes was merely eighteen years old. It's fair to say he and his bandmates have come a long way since then, but that doesn't mean every subsequent step has been a step forward. What Supergrass has done with its fifth full-length, Road to Rouen, is make a slightly rough transition from Brit-rock to Brit-pop, a place that longtime fans of the band might consider undesirable territory.
Realistically, it's not a big departure. Supergrass was essentially a pop-rock band to begin with, but the transition is noticeable. Whereas previous efforts (from 1995's I Should Coco to 2002's Life on Other Planets) were catchier, contained higher ratios of obvious singles, and made more prominent use of angular guitar, Road to Rouen - referring to the French city, not the ducks - shows off the group's ability to transform into a neo-classic Brit-pop band, lush layers and dark undertones intact.
The album, however, falls short with respect to consistency. Opener "Tales of Endurance (Parts 4, 5 & 6)" foreshadows the pace and style of the record: letting a simple acoustic strum lead into soft layers of every gradually added instrument (complete with indulgent trumpet solo) that evolve into a conclusion that recalls the heavily percussive pop-rock of previous singles. But when the album truly begins, with second track "
And then, nothing. "Coffee in the Pot," best likened to the Offspring's use of "Tea for Two" as the intermission track on Ixnay on the Hombre, is horribly out of place in its effort to prove that Supergrass still has a sense of humor. The title track begins a cluster of catchier songs well-suited to the band's previous but weakest album, Life on Other Planets. But by the time Road to Rouen is nearly complete, we're forced to end our thirty-five-minute journey with the anti-climactic "Fin," a soft ballad that is so terribly easy that it's the perfect finale to a downhill journey that wasted so much promise.
It seems Supergrass has used this record as an experiment, dipping into both familiar and unfamiliar territory with tempo and style (at least in reference to the band's own musical history). If the band members could let go of the familiar and make the final leap to the softer style they surprisingly succeed in, they'd have a gorgeous record on their hands - as well as proof that maturity indeed has its benefits.
Microsite for Road to Rouen: http://www.roadtorouen.com/
Streams of five songs on Road to Rouen: http://www.supergrassmusic.com/