Supergrass Diamond Hoo Ha

[Astralwerks/Parlophone; 2008]

Styles: plastic hoo ha
Others: The Beatles, Blur, Bolan, Bowie

Since the bright dawning days and hard crash nights of Britpop, who would have thought that Supergrass, those plucky youngsters who set the world alight with their ageless anthems, would still be cranking out inspired albums full of wit and soul. It's not all that surprising, actually; Supergrass always had the upper hand on their contemporaries. While singer/guitarist Gaz and drummer Danny may have benefited from their previous, albeit briefly enjoyed, experience in The Jennifers (on the ultra-hip Nude label nonetheless, home to doomed Britpop darlings Suede) and definitely benefited by starting up at an opportune time and place in Britain, they also had the talent to stay at the party long after their contemporaries became junkies, obsolete, or irrelevant. While some tossed the band aside as “those guys that did that ‘Alright’ song,” the rest of us acknowledged the band as one of the most consistent UK pop acts of the past 15 years. As such, we have come to expect a certain level of excellence when it comes to every new Supergrass album.

However, from the moment that “Diamond Hoo Ha Man” emerges with a hail of “When the sun goes down/ I just can’t resist... bite me!”, it is clear that this will not be the latest in a long line of charismatic, inspired Supergrass albums. Those who humbugged the underappreciated glam turn of Life on Other Planets and the altogether more understated Road to Rouen will be doing cartwheels over the outward return to rock and the uptempo swagger that most associate with the band’s first three albums. There is a surface strut to Daimond Hoo Ha, but unfortunately it is at the expense of the variety and cheeky cleverness found in spades on I Should Coco, In It for the Money, and Supergrass. Road to Rouen gets unfairly maligned for being too downcast, too latter-day Beatles and Led Zeppelin-lite, but it at least had some brilliant turns. And songs! After listening to Diamond Hoo Ha, I would welcome 10 “St. Petersburg”s or “Kick in the Teeth”s in lieu of the banalities found on this record.

Supergrass have never been afraid to display their fan club badges on their sleeves (The Jam, The Beatles, T. Rex), so it is not surprising to hear “When I Needed You” channeling the gloomy feel of The Kinks’ “Dead End Street” and “Rebel in You” aping 1980s Bowie (aside: Diamond Hoo Ha was recorded at Hansa Studios, where Bowie recorded his "Berlin trilogy"). Better results are found on “Rough Knuckles,” which sounds like something that was cut from Life on Other Planets' final tracklist, and “Ghost of a Friend,” with its Dylan-esque deliveries. Both are exactly the slices of infectious pop that you would expect, and both provide a little life to the proceedings. Good intentions surely, but ones that neither last long nor derail the unwavering course taken by Diamond Hoo Ha. Mostly the album is riddled with the unsalvageable, unmemorable plodding of “345,” “The Return of…,” and “Outside.” And “Butterfly” and “Whisky & Green Tea.” Even the two singles, “Diamond Hoo Ha Man” and “Bad Blood,” are nothing more than mildly entertaining, ridden with clichés that the band have always been so careful to avoid. Even when they played right into rockist poses, they always came out flashing a wink, a winning grin, and a killer song. No such luck this time around.

Normally this would be the point in class when I stand on my desk and declare that any Supergrass album, even a less-than-average one, “Pisses all over just about anything by any other band you could care to mention... O Captain! My Captain!” and nine times out of ten, I would be bang on. It pains me to say it, but Diamond Hoo Ha is filled with filler, the likes of which you would be skipping over if they appeared on any of their past full-length glories. A renewed commitment to rock and a display of cocky confidence will not make up for the lack of quality songs on this record. Growth is a given for a veteran band, but there should also be a clear understanding of what does and doesn't work, and Diamond Hoo Ha does not work. This album will please Supergrass-adoring simpletons merely looking for a new album by their favorite band, but to everyone else it should be considered a major disappointment.

1. Diamond Hoo Ha Man
2. Bad Blood
3. Rebel in You
4. When I Needed You
5. 345
6. The Return of...
7. Rough Knuckles
8. Ghost of a Friend
9. Whiskey & Green Tea
10. Outside
11. Butterfly

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