Friday, January 23, 2015

Supergrass and Their Not-So-Sloppy Second

Second albums are notoriously sticky wickets. The best bands - the Radioheads and Mansuns of the world - overcome Second Album Syndrome by going bigger and more ambitious; other bands are content to simply rest on their laurels and phone it in on album number two.

At first glance, Britpop bruisers Supergrass seem to fall into the latter category. Their sophomore effort, 1997's In It For The Money, sounds in many places like it was written on the spot - most of the lyrics are nonsense, and song structure seldom strays from the classic verse/chorus/verse/chorus/Rob does a solo on whatever instrument he's got handy/chorus/chorus format.

In this song, that instrument was a theremin.

Even the song titles appear to betray a stark lack of effort; G-Song, for example, is a song in the key of G minor, and given how little the lyrics Richard III actually have to do with King Richard III, I'm forced to assume that the late monarch just so happened to be in the news that day, and that his name seemed as good a title as any.

However, if you scratch beneath the surface, you will find that In It For The Money is anything but tossed-off. My favourite giveaway is the synth solo in Sun Hits the Sky; it's so intricately engineered, with so many little changes in attack and velocity and sustain and that sort of thing, that it could not possibly have been achieved without hours of studio tinkering. That's not the sort of thing you do when you're phoning it in.

You can see what I mean about the nonsense lyrics, though, right?

Other examples abound; from the hot brass licks on Tonight to the bewitching, densely-layered trifle that is Going Out, it is clear that Supergrass were making an effort with this album after all.

Which leads me to believe that In It For The Money is some kind of parody of phoned-in second albums. Everything about it is a comment on everyone else's lackadaisical attitude to the sophomore record, including the title: they're only "in it for the money", so why bother putting in more work than is necessary?

When you think about it this way, IIFTM starts to seem very clever indeed. If you believe - as I now do - that all the cut corners and half-asses were meant ironically, you start to appreciate the album on a whole new level, and the things that used to bug you become your favourite parts. It's not that they couldn't be bothered to think of a proper ending for the title track, or some non-clichéd lyrics for Tonight, or a way to bookend Cheapskate without lazily fading in and out; they deliberately left that stuff as it was to make fun of the other bands.

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