Friday, December 4, 2009

SONG #7-- Sitting Up Straight


And here's an antidote for the prog-rock hangover of Song #6.  Seems appropriate to get Supergrass up here on this, Joel Streeter's birthday weekend.  Joel, one of SF's finest singer-songwriters, is also the unofficial president of the local chapter of the Supergrass Slobbery Fan Club.  You can also count me as a charter member.

Supergrass almost went the way of Silverchair-- they were teenagers when this debut album came out, and they were the snotty younger cousins of the Britpop movement.  Oasis and Blur were the heavyweights, and Supergrass seemed like they were going to be one in an enormous wave of one hit wonders (how's that Menswear CD doing in your collection?).  Being on the Clueless soundtrack didn't help.  I heard a few early singles and thought they were fun, but assumed it was all they had to offer, and completely ignored them.  (Anyone honest enough to admit to the same reaction to "Creep"?)

Then I went to Oxford for the summer in '98, where Supergrass (and Radiohead) is from, and stayed in the college where Supergrass had played the graduation party three days before I arrived (there were still posters up in the college bar).  The students still hanging around were raving about it, so I picked up copies of I Should Coco and In It For The Money, and was reminded yet again that being a musical snob makes you your own worst enemy sometimes.  By way of mea culpa, I'd argue now that Supergrass sits solidly next to Radiohead and Gomez as one of the three best British bands of the last fifteen years.  There.  Provocative!  That's what you come to a blog for, right?

To make that argument, I have to dig into their more recent albums, so I'll wait on that, and just say that if you're looking for a place to start with these guys, this first album is perfect.  More than anything, it's fun as hell.  I'd love to sit down so many current rock bands and make them listen to I Should Coco; the lack of pretension in this album is such a breath of fresh air.  It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it takes all the best pieces from early Kinks and Who singles and 70's punk rock and mixes them together.  There were five (FIVE!) hit singles off this album in the UK, all worthy of a blog entry.  But the pod chose this one, so we're going with the deep album track here, and hopefully in doing so will lead you back to (or just to) this great record.

"Sitting Up Straight" starts with some piano noodling, and you think it's going to be the obligatory ballad, but wonderfully, the band (a trio, so lots of space for each player) kicks in at twenty seconds and jumps into two minutes of air-tight power-punk-pop.  Drummer Danny Goffey has a Keith Moon thing going here-- the drums are the lead instrument-- and his fills are propulsive but not distracting.  You'll beat the hell out your steering wheel to this one.  Singer Gaz Coombes has both an everyman snarl in his voice with the ability to hit and hold the high note-- part of what's turned Supergrass into a brilliant band are their vocals.  Bassist Mick Quinn has a great sense of melody and drama-- he uses the high octaves of the bass really effectively to heighten tension, especially in the guitar solo at the end of the song.

Coombes is not a great guitar player, but he's great at what he does.  He's a dynamic rhythm player, and the chicken-scratch style at the top of the tune is terrific.  His mini-solo at the end is also endearing.  It's that moment after the second chorus that lets you now that Supergrass has potential for a series of great albums-- for fifteen seconds, the band engages in a group solo-- all three players going for broke-- and it's clear that they have ambitions beyond fifteen minutes of fame.

Finally, the lyrics are pithy and paint one clear image-- Coombes is on a bus, bored, looking at another bored kid.  "He's like me / He'd do anything to get away."  Oxford's a great town if you're there to be a student; then, you're in the community of scholars and professors, and those thousand year old libraries are for you.  But I rode the bus home most days, and on the bus Oxford is a different town altogether.  It's a different story when you work near and around those libraries but never go in them.  It was such a segregated town in every way.  I feel like I can hear that frustration in this song; if you're just a townie trying to scrape together gas money for gigs, than the Bodleian Library and its first edition Shakespeares probably aren't much solace and comfort.

I hope Supergrass charged my college a fortune to play that graduation party.


Great live version from 2004 encore:


P.S.  When Supergrass played the Great American Music Hall in 2006, Suz and I saw this couple come in and stand in front of us.  He was obviously a HUGE fan; she was obviously not sure about this whole "concert" thing. She had a huge purse with her.  I mean, HUGE-- she could have carried a ten year-old in it.  Suz turned to me and said "It's ten minutes before he's holding that for her."  She was wrong.  It was five.  The poor guy had to try to dance through the show holding her bag (with BOTH hands, in front of him, like a bowling ball), while she looked around for someone better looking.

I hope he's found someone better himself.

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