31 January 2015

Gaz Coombes - Matador

(Brief note - This album has been nominated for the Mercury Prize 2015 since the review was posted in January 2015)

Supergrass (the band, not the criminal super snitch) is a band I have a love/hate relationship with. They have made some fantastic songs over the years, their later career was really interesting; however for every great step forward, there was a moment that made me want to act out one of the more famous scenes of The Shinning – you know, the one with the door way.  So it may come as a bit of a surprise to some people that I am looking at this album, when I can be a bit scathing of their previous work.  Well, to be honest it is not that big of a leap to the side – I always test my opinion of bands and solo artists to see if they hold water, also there has been a few Brit-pop front men who have released solo albums (Damon Alburn with ‘Everyday Robots’ and Thom Yorke with ‘Tomorrow Modern Boxes’ (both reviews cleverly linked here)).  Now out of all the Brit-pop era acts, I would not be expecting a solo album from Mr Coombes, nor would I be expecting much from it.  I am stating this from the beginning just so my previous opinion is very clear, so let’s see if this record is a game changer.

Starting the album is “Buffalo” and from the outset you can tell this is a very different beast to Supergrass.  Let me rephrase that, this is a million miles away from Supergrass.  Sounding very much like the idea which was forming for Thom Yorke, this electronica/rock hybrid combines to make a stunning statement for the opening of this album. Mr Coombes lyrics and vocals are much matured on this song, it has a more serious record and it might confuse some people who are coming here expecting “It’s Alright” part two.  This is not what I was expecting and it makes me smile from ear to ear, I like being surprised.  Next is “20/20” which keeps up this musical odyssey floating along, this minimal electronica piece with a haunting guitar humming in the back ground and basic drumming is helped with a gospel choir that complements Mr Coombes’ incredibly well.  Nothing is wasted, there are some OTT moments, but it is context and always from a clinical and precise build.  This is then followed by “The English Ruse” which follows the electronica pulse and has a robot in league with the humans, it has a bit of energy about it and it also has a sixties feeling of rock sensibility that is added to the mix incredibly well; it feels like it could have been made with Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy and a mass of keyboards, the song is incredibly well crafted and the minimal bridge/choir/strings bit is haunting.

Fourth track “The Girl Who Feel to Earth” is a bit more straight forward than the opening bombardment, a classic ballad with a sombre overtone; some poetic lyrics and not one jokey grin or silly turn of phrase in sight.  The gentle tone of the song is beautiful, it is very easy on the ear and I cannot help but fall for its charms.  It is not a cutting edge number to be honest, but does good music need to always be on that ragged line?  Sometimes it just needs to be good, something that this song proves.  "Detroit" keeps the more stripped back tone of the record going for the most part, until the chorus comes and then the strings, backing singers and volume seems to be amplified.  It is not as immediate as the first four songs of the album, it seems the chorus overpowers the rest of the song here; I love it more when the quiet moments are allowed to develop and stretch out, there is a great section in the middle where it just seems to be all about the build and that is really interesting.  A really interesting, if not nearly complete number (for me at least). "Needle's Eye" starts with a funky bass line, some harsh guitar strumming and electronic noises that swirl around the listener.  The groove is coming back here, it still taking its time to get from places to place and that suits me just fine.  The mixture of 60's/70's vibes and song writing, against the electronica and modern production is done very well on "Needle's Eye" and Mr Coombes voice is sounding much more assured on this type of song.  "Seven Walls" is the seventh track on the album, which sounds like a broken heart song in every point - the unrequited love, the pleas for the fun times that could be had, the slow and sombre music; which is only ever broken when the singer starts to crack - all done to a perfect point.  It is a track which keeps on giving the more that it is played, it makes the heavy heart feel like they are not alone and that whilst everything is not perfect, there is hope and unity in shared misery.

"Oscillate" starts with a loop of guitar noises and has that broken indie feel that was started with Radiohead around the time of 'OK Computer' and whilst not stretching out the idea beyond its purpose, it is kept nice and simple; it is very tight and there is not a wasted moment on the song.  It is not something that floats my boat as much as earlier numbers on the album, but it is still well put together.  Once again, it is also a grower that just keeps on improving with each listen.  Next is "To the Wire" which has a drum beat that reminds me of Thomas Truax and his home constructed drum machine made from bicycle wheels and strange appendages.  The song sounds like it could have been used in a cop drama, as a lot of this album has if truth be told.  The clash of retro and modern sounds and instrumentation is best shown in this song, it is a massive piece for the album and he pulls it off.  Next is a strange interlude for the album called "Is It On", a small sample of banjo, amplifier buzzing and loops; it could have really opened the album, but who am I to question at this point.  The finale of the album is called "Matador" and to be honest I cannot decide if it is one of the bravest moves or poorest album ending tracks I have heard.  The song itself is actually a good track; it is a simple stripped back piece about wanting to be more and to be brave. However to have this short and simple number end the track is something I cannot quite understand.  The last three tracks of the album seem to be in the wrong order, but who am I to argue; it is still a pleasant album to draw the curtain on this record.

I was truly not expecting much from this album at all, I think my opening statement made that clear.  But over the half hour or so that the album was playing, my opinion was challenged and changed; it is a game changer if ever I heard one, it is a million miles from his roots and it is also a beautifully fragile album that has me in raptor.  Is it perfect, not really - there is some choices of track ordering which do not let the album flow for me, but these are small personal details and do not take anything away from the music.  If you are expecting more Supergrass in a different light, you will have to look elsewhere.  Even if you were not a Supergrass fan before hand, I would recommend this album; you will be surprised.  The king is dead; all hail the new king in town.

9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost....

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Gaz Coombes website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

If Deezer is your streaming service of choice, here is a link for you

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