It is a relief to remember that Britpop was not all about posturing.
It is easy to dismiss the Britpop phenomenon as the second coming of Beatlemania – and a lesser one at that. Especially now, given the fact that much of the media attention afforded aging Britpop figures is limited to the Gallagher brothers’ increasingly uninteresting shenanigans. But some of the stuff released under during the genre’s heyday truly holds up, none more so than Supergrass.
Sure, Blur and Pulp were artsier, and both Damon Albarn and Jarvis Cocker more self-consciously literary in their own way; there is an argument to be made for Parklife or Different Class as more quintessential Britpop albums. But neither band were ever quite comfortable being rock bands. Supergrass was.
On the heels of their rollicking 1995 debut, I Should Coco, they released In It for the Money in 1997. The transition between the two albums is huge. If the former is their Please Please Me, the latter goes straight to the Rubber Soul/Revolver era. Whereas their first album was ensconced firmly in a post-Buzzcocks pop-punk tradition, this album expands their sound to almost carnivalesque proportions.
The album opens in style, with the soft groan of an organ, a descending, arpeggiated chord progression and Gaz Coombes’s powerful vocals, followed by the titular chant “We’re in it for the money”. It launches into poppier, galloping territory—“Got my mind made up/I got my finger on the button going way home/I got my sound turned down/got a feeling in my pocket going way home”—before coming to an abrupt end; a truly disarming start.
From there, things more or less alternate between louder and quieter. The second track, the menacing “Richard III,” is a scorcher replete with a Theremin solo. The snappy “Tonight,” featuring background horns, recalls the feel of their debut, while the acoustic “Late in the Day” takes us towards more plaintive territory before transitioning into a bouncier chorus section. The seductive “G-Song” and buoyant “Sun Hits the Sky” follow – with its squiggly synth solo and extended outro – after which we arrive to the centerpiece of the album, “Going Out.”
This is Supergrass’s Magical Mystery Tour moment. With its careening organ line, crashing drums and Sixties-style harmonies barely peeking over the top, it sounds like the musical equivalent of a drunken merry-go-round. Supposedly inspired by drummer Danny Goffey’s excessive cavorting, the sarcastic refrain “If you want to go out/Read it in the papers/Tell me what it’s all about!” takes on a sinister quality, despite the playful sound. Sporting McCartney-esque bass and a chaotic arrangement, this is Supergrass as their most organically psychedelic and carefree.
Post-“Going Out,” the album’s second half is its more experimental side. The acoustic trip of “It’s Not Me,” featuring Coombes at his most Elton-ish, provides a suitable breather before the funky blaze of “Cheapskate,” which has one of the most explosive choruses in the Supergrass catalogue—“I need someone to be around/‘Cause I’m breaking into life/Somebody stop me/‘Cause I’m looking for my high.” Coombes had some of the best pipes in the business which, along with his guitar skills, are more than enough to make him a Britpop MVP.
The album closes with the trio of “You Can See Me,” another Beatles-esque reflection on perception and image, the more Zombies-inspired, piano-led “Hollow Little Reign” and “Sometimes I Make You Sad,” which is full of eerie organ and dissonance. This provides an especially haunting close to the album—“And then when the curtain falls on you/The people don’t care/‘Cause there’s nothing out there!”
Part of what makes this album so impressive is its emotional cohesion as it tracks the highs and lows of public and private life, particularly where the two are hard to keep apart. Somehow Supergrass was able to fully absorb and process its own fame in time to write about it with an unusual self-awareness; Coombes’ lyrics being clever without being fanciful, emotional without being maudlin.
It is a relief to remember that Britpop was not all about posturing. Forget about Blur vs. Oasis vs. anyone else—the heart and soul of this generation’s music was Supergrass and In It for the Money is arguably their finest hour.