Supergrass Life on Other Planets

[Capitol; 2002]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: Britpop, punk-pop
Others: T. Rex, Pulp, Super Furry Animals, Weezer, Blur

After three long years, the beautifully-impaired trio are back with another
batch of tightly structured pop songs. But before we dive right into the group's
fourth long-player, Life on Other Planets, let me provide a short history
lesson on Supergrass:

In 1995 Supergrass releases I Should Coco, a hyper-energized ball of snot
that has as much attitude as talent. Because of its biting-yet-charming decorum,
the poptacular critics swoon and salivate as they carelessly lump them into the
rit-pop movement. Two years later, Supergrass unleash the near-flawless In
It for the Money.
Dabbling everywhere from punk to more jazz-influenced
songs, the album ups the musical ante without sacrificing the fun. Add another
couple years and we get to the untitled penultimate release. Though definitely
not as "fun" or energized, the album exposes just how creative and talented
these musicians are, replacing the spastic rock-outs with subdued compositions.

It's now 2002. Following the lead of previous albums, an assuming listener might
expect an even less intense group on Life on Other Planets. But upon the
first chords of opening track, "Za," it's apparent that a conscious toning-down
of volume is not the Supergrass way. Consequently, most critics will likely
proclaim this album as a return-to-form, a revisiting of the upbeat bounce of
yesteryear. But from my vantage point, Life on Other Planets is the most
un-Supergrass album yet.

Sure, on the surface, the volume and tempo on Life on Other Planets are
much closer to In It for the Money than that of its predecessor. But
other than these superficial reasons, Life on Other Planets shares little
with their first two pop journals. When listening to the untitled album (the
supposed oddball of all the albums), there's no doubt that the songs were
trademarked with the Supergrass flexing that graced previous releases. Whether
it be the chords, the musical tangents, or the melodies, the untitled album
continued right where In It for the Money left off, perhaps more
articulately. Life on Other Planets, however, shows a different blade of
grass-- of course, any Supergrass album will essentially sound like a Supergrass
album-- but little things have vanished, such as the aforementioned chords,
tangents, and melodies.

What was most impressive of Supergrass throughout their formative years was the
crafting of undeniably tasteful pop songs. There has been a glut of derivative
pop songs in rock's history, yet the ones penned by Supergrass always protruded
a little further. Songs like "Richard III" and "She's So Loose" exemplified
Supergrass' pop sensibilities mixed with quirky, playful sentiments . But with
songs like "Rush Hour Soul" and "Can't Get Up" off Life on Other Planets,
one can't help but notice the magic has somewhat waned. And I guess when I say
magic, I mean excitement, and when I say waned, I really mean disappeared.

The songs are by no means something to sleep to; they are still fairly
representative of Supergrass. But subsequent listens prove somewhat boring.
Other than the new melodies (which are banal in themselves), these songs offer
nothing the listener hasn't heard before. From the throwaway lyrics of "Za" ("Face,
such a beautiful face/ Time waits for no one/ So why don't we get it on? Yeah!"
to the predictability of "Seen the Light," the album comes off tame and basks in
the dreaded mediocrity of rock.

However, there are some pretty spectacular moments on the album. And,
ironically, the two songs worth mentioning, "Prophet 15" and "Run," are the
exceptions to the "return to form" notion; instead, these songs would fit well
on 1999's untitled. Both seem very natural and unforced, relying on their
transcendent nature to imbue an ambient environment.

Whether or not Supergrass failed to consciously make a return to its early
rock-out days is not the issue, because even if they weren't conscious about the
grand scheme of its rock-o-meter, the point is that Life on Other Planets
is neither entirely boring nor entirely engaging. It's a definite middle-ground
summed up best with two words: sub par. Now it looks as if not only do they need
facials, but their songs could use a little touching up.

1. Za
2. Rush Hour Soul
3. Seen the Light
4. Brecon Beacons
5. Can't Get Up
6. Evening of the Day
7. Never Done Nothing Like That Before
8. Funniest Thing
9. Grace
10. LA Song
11. Prophet 15
12. Run

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