Despite promising little, Turn Ons proves to be quite the diverting delight.
Mike Diver 2010-01-28
Supergrass were one of the very best bands to emerge from the country’s infatuation with Britpop in the 1990s. Three excellent albums – I Should Coco, In It for the Money, a self-titled third – between 95 and 99 ensured that, while Oasis and Blur hogged the headlines, the trio of Danny Goffey, Mick Quinn and triumphantly hirsute vocalist Gaz Coombes (later joined by Rob Coombes) met the new millennium with the best tunes. Their star may have descended lately, 2008’s Diamond Hoo Ha too by-the-book to warrant prioritising over catalogue highlights, but the band remain capable of brightening any festival bill.
Initially seen as something of a novelty act – Steven Spielberg asked for the trio’s thoughts on a Monkees-style TV show around the release of their debut; they turned him down – Supergrass quickly stepped away from the throwaway fun of debut single Alright and into more meditative, occasionally macabre material. 1999’s eponymous collection, particularly, was striking in its shady spirit and sinister lyricism. But The Hotrats – aka Gaz and Danny ‘Grass – initially appear absolutely trivial: a covers outfit, they might exhibit great taste, but they’re still simply playing karaoke when they could be furthering the Supergrass cause.
But every artist needs a little detachment to best focus on their next project ‘proper’, and Turn Ons is no embarrassment. Far from it, in fact: carefully considered cuts are treated with respect for the source recordings and given new life that, surprisingly frequently, transforms what could otherwise be a knocked-out-quick cacophony of clichés into genuinely catchy and affecting interpretations. The Velvet Underground’s I Can’t Stand It fizzes and sizzles with a raucous energy recalling the In It for the Money days; Beastie Boys' bratty classic (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) becomes an acoustic lament to youthful days of exuberance gone by; and Elvis Costello’s Pump It Up is every bit as gleefully infectious as the original.
Most enjoyable of all, though, are the duo’s retellings of Gang of Four and Squeeze numbers. The post-punks’ Damaged Goods is reborn as a brilliant, folk-kissed protest march, with bass that groans like a stirring volcano and real yearning in Coombes’ vocal performance; Up the Junction, meanwhile, is stripped of all new-wave gloss, becoming a torch song for modern lovers out of step with pop’s hackneyed way with a ballad.
So, despite promising little, Turn Ons proves to be quite the diverting delight, albeit one you're unlikely to return to once a new Supergrass album arrives.