HERE'S AN ODD thing: in the last six months three leading Britpop/rock frontmen – Damon Albarn, Thom Yorke and now Supergrass’s Gaz Coombes – have delivered solo albums; and, given the multiplicity of available musical styles and influences, the breadth of collaborators and instruments and moods they could choose from, they’ve all made essentially the same record. Each leans heavily on electronica and exhibits, in places, a keen ear for programmed beats and tricky two-step rhythms. Each has a gentlemanly Middle English mind-set, a reticence to scream, “This is me!” And each oozes a deep, midlife sadness – premature autumnal reflections mixed with tensile defiance. But only one truly warms you to its creator: this one.
“It feels like a journey through one man’s rawest emotions.”
While Supergrass never sold as many records as Blur, Oasis or Radiohead, at their finest, they showed equivalent musical depth: in fact, the dreamy, hypnagogic atmosphere of Matador, always evoking twilight shadows and sleepless nights rather than the corporeal world of daylight, was a feature of the band’s singular glam-psych music as early as Late In The Day on 1997’s In It For The Money, and loomed large on their criminally under-appreciated Supergrass two years later.
Coombes – the band’s creative mainspring, distinctively strained Bowie-ish voice, and iconic bewhiskered pin-up – tentatively dipped into solo waters with 2012’s chequered Here Come The Bombs. But with Matador, he defines what a heavyweight solo LP should be: an instinctive and honest sublimation of a state of mind, full of intriguing revelations but leaving enough questions unanswered to keep you ever seeking more in its grooves.
The irregular beats and woozy electronic sway of opener Buffalo set the tone of disorientation, Coombes telling us, “I lost my way… I found the only road”, before the song ends with a big, doomy dubstep-style finale. The sense of the singer trying to communicate an unease buried deep within is amplified by the next track, the equally opaque and powerful 2020, the wash of instruments simmering down to lay bare a descant McCartney melody, the singer’s proclamation, “I take the hurricane for you”, like many other phrases elsewhere on album, multi-harmonised by Coombes himself, lending it an unsettling church-y feel.
Stars in their teens, Supergrass experienced most rock’n’roll travails and Matador seems an attempt to come to terms with this: Detroit alludes to a white-powder-induced tour meltdown, lamenting his geographical distance from his loved one; and, indeed, Seven Walls nostalgically recalls Gaz and his wife’s courtship in Oxford. But it’s the epic description of bereavement, To The Wire, which eclipses the other tracks in its transcendental power, climaxing with a heart-wrenching refrain of “stay in my heart” over an angry, roiling mesh of sound.
Musically, keyboard-and-Moog textures dominate, augmented with weird tube-amp distortion, motorik beats and gentle ambient moments, and booming sub-bass. By the end, it feels like a journey through one man’s rawest and real emotions. Albarn and Yorke may possess more innate gravitas, but that likeable scamp from Supergrass is shedding his youthful skin to emerge as a serious and fascinating artist. Alright indeed.
Watch Coombes performing single 20/20 live, and listen to Matador in full below.
For more information, including tour dates, head to www.gazcoombes.com.