Three years after their anniversary best-of, Supergrass Is 10, the boys have returned to the basics with their new Diamond Hoo Ha (Astralwerks) – good news for lovers of the Brit band's blend of glammish moves, new wave rockwerk and rush hour soul. After straying from their straight ahead pop-rock sound with the moodier Road to Rouen, the brothers Coombes and company have returned to what matters: sturdy popcraft.
Whether this will sell in states, where Supergrass has mainly played the unsatisfying role of underheard critics darlings, is up for grabs, though perhaps a gig opening for the Foo Fighters this summer will pique some interest. You can hear the band working to stay current with their title album opener, "Diamond Hoo Ha Man," which somehow manages to meld White Stripes-ian proto-blooz with a hint of Oingo Boingo, though to my ears the disc really kicks in with its second and third tracks. Cut two, "Bad Blood," sounds like something Iggy Pop might've moaned his way through in the Berlin days, while "Rebel in You" boasts a soulful melody line that Holland/Dozier would've probably recognized. Now that's the 'grass we know and love.
Further in, the Diamond Hoo Ha Men give us an addictive redundant guitar lick reminiscent of discoid Bowie ("The Return of …"), an Ultravox-y Rob Coombes keyboard hook on "Rough Knuckles," and an engagingly deranged Pete Wareham sax solo on "Whiskey & Green Tea." That last track, with its lyrical ref to being chased by Chinese dragons and William S. Burroughs could be a drug song, but who knows for certain?
Though the band saw some temporary personnel shuffling during the recording of this disc — thanx to a sleepwalking(!) incident which reportedly incapacitated bassist Mick Quinn — it doesn't seem to have effected the group's core sound, which remains tougher than ever. And while ten-plus years practically constitutes decrepitude when it comes to Brit-pop bands (read Astralwerks' promo material you immediately see mention of the band's recent gigs with Coldplay and Arctic Monkeys: near youth by association), the 'grassers show no diminution of either energy or tunefulness. If anything, the material on Diamond Hoo Ha is consistently stronger than the band's erratic self-titled 1999 x-ray album, which still managed to give us the great "Pumping On Your Stereo."
For once, it seems all the hoo-ha is justified.