Hollow Little Reign: In It For The Money at 25

If I Should Coco was a bright display of a young Supergrass dizzy with possibility, those possibilities were even more fully realized on their sophomore masterpiece

Supergrass In It For The Money, Parlophone Records 1997

Many years ago, while still living in Nebraska, there was a mini-record store chain that I used to patronize regularly.

One of their locations in Lincoln was smaller than the others, but it was on my way out of town (a bit over an hour’s drive before I could hear my new purchases). One of the things it had, for a fairly brief period of time, a dedicated Britpop section.

This wasn’t just Blur and Oasis, there were the lesser known bands here — the Charlatans, Dodgy, Shed Seven, Gene and the like.

For all the talk of “Blur-vs-Oasis”, there were other bands who deserved to be in that discussion — Pulp, to be sure. Another band staked its right to be in that discussion 25 years ago this month when Supergrass released its second and best album — In It For The Money.

Coming off the heels of their debut I Should Coco, which was a youthful blast of quick, tuneful energy, it would have been easy to do I Should Coco, Part Deux. Indeed, that’s probably what their label– Parlophone — wanted.

Already moving forward musically, Supergrass chose to take their own reins, producing the album themselves.

The first hint of what was to come arrived in February, 1996 when the song “Going Out”, which they’d been playing live since some shows on the I Should Coco tour, was released as a single.

The sardonic song beats Oasis at its own game (one can practically hear Liam Gallagher drawl-sing “Read it in the papers, tell me what it’s all about” in your head, complete with extra syllables on the word “about”).

But those feuding brothers from Manchester wouldn’t have opened a song like this with the carnivalesque organ, nor would they have added horns,including that bridge. Nor would Blur have turned the guitars up that loud, for that matter.

The sessions took place in the fall of ’96, albeit with some tension. Drummer Danny Goffey would leave Sawmills Studios in Cornwall at times to record in London with his other band — Lodger — which included his then-girlfriend and current wife Pearl Lowe.

 

VIDEO: Supergrass “Richard III”

Whatever issues might have existed, the band was able to get to work, with all but two of the songs being written at Sawmills.

Without much material ready to go, In It For the Money would come together from a number of jams. Supergrass wasn’t about to turn into the Grateful Dead or anything, as their sense of songcraft carried over from the debut.

A case in point arrived when fans got another taste of the upcoming album when “Richard III” was released as a single a month before the album.

One would expect a charging song (with opening chords that lead one to believe the lads also listened to bands like the Buzzcocks growing up) like this to get some form of guitar solo, right? Well, it does, but not the first solo, which instead goes to a theremin, a nifty touch for a song about trying to break away from routine.

It can sound like a kiss of death when a young band that opens with a blast of an album is described as “maturing”, but it wasn’t for Supergrass, even though they clearly did. Think of it as a progression.

Their label wasn’t the only party interested in the Supergrass image of lovable, wacky moptops, as seen in the delightfully silly video for I Should Coco’s standout single “Alright.”

Steven Spielberg wanted to do a television series that would be a Monkees for the ’90s starring the band. Considering Spielberg’s comedy filmography includes 1941 and, well, that’s it, the series never happening was for the best for all concerned.

“It was brilliant to meet him – I remember talking to him about old Twilight Zone episodes. But we wanted to make it in America through our music, rather than our sideburns. We were on fire, and we just wanted to make the next record,” lead singer Gaz Coombes told the Guardian in 2015.

The growth manifests in places like the ballads “Late in the Day” and “It’s Not Me,” two of the album’s well-placed highlights.

The former, appearing four songs in, strikes a tone of longing. Wistful without being wispy, it starts quietly with an acoustic fade-in (a wise addition that wasn’t in the demo version) before the rest of the band kicks in, from a section driven by hi-hat to a Gaz solo that kicks up the emotions of the songs to the piano, organ and synth parts from Rob Coombes.

In retrospect, it seems that Rob wasn’t an official band member until 2002. He was part of the sound even early, think of his piano part driving “Alright.” He’s an even bigger part of the equation throughout In It For the Money, adding all sorts of keyboard flavorings as the band as a whole was expanding its musical palette.

Supergrass “In It For The Money,” Parlophone Records 1997

The opening title track starts with an organ sound straight out of an introductory segment on an old TV horror movie host’s show, then the band starts to kick in, first with the “we’re in it for the money” chanting (a placeholder during writing that stuck when it the band realized it fit their wit and sensibilities).

“It’s Not Me” inhabits a state of “now what” stasis and detachment where you no longer feel in control of your own life. It was, to that point,a rarity in that Gaz basically came up with the lyrics and melody quickly at his home.

That’s not to say the people who loved I Should Coco were listening to a band of strangers the second time around. “Tonight”, while not as fast as Coco’s most manic moments, would have fit right in on the debut (albeit probably not with the horns). If the protagonist of “Mama Told Me Not to Come” had too much of a good time to remember his mother’s admonition (and grown up on a steady diet of British rock, pop and punk), it might have sounded like this.

“Cheapskate” percolates through the verses before going into a soaring chorus that belies the darkness underneath (the protagonist really does wish someone would stop him).

Supergrass’ decision to produce the album (with Coco engineer John Cornfield back) proved to be a good one. The final result sounds polished, without veering into excessive slickness.

“Sun Hits the Sky” shows off the band’s various elements well. Gaz may have garnered the most attention as frontman and guitarist, but Mick Quinn’s fluid bass work is a constant throughout In It For The Money. It’s a highlight on this put-the-roof-down and put-a-heavier-foot on the gas pedal track.

Goffey, meanwhile, is right there with him, complete with the added percussion on the extended outro.

The mid-tempo “G Song” sounds more Beatlesque in its mostly instrumental demo form, particularly in the Abbey Road-esque parts where the “There may be troubles in your mind/Maybe tomorrow, you could be fine” lyrics were added later.

On the album, the ditty about Gen X malaise becomes a little rougher around the edges with Gaz’s distorted vocals and tighter around the solos.

For all their playing with melodies and chord changes, Supergrass keeps things fairly tight. For an album mostly spawned from studio jams, they don’t suddenly start turning in tracks that push 10-minutes in length.

The rush of fame for someone young informs “You Can’t See Me”. Gaz was 19 when I Should Coco, which would hit No. 1 in the U.K., was released — a short trip from playing in local venues when you’re not legal drinking age to being a face on posters, T-shirts and pins, a commodity (“You can’t see me/I’m not really there”).

“Hollow Little Reign” is more of a curveball, almost jazzy as it rolls along like a walk near the countryside on a lazy day.

If only they’d ended the album there, instead of going with “Sometimes I Make You Sound” which never really comes together. It sounds like random ideas, like human beatboxing and a lurching organ, shoved into a blender in search of a hook. One almost wouldn’t have been surprised to find out it was a planned bonus track that made it on to the finished album due to an accident at the pressing plant.

 

VIDEO: Supergrass “Late In The Day”

Frankly, they could have dropped it and thrown bonus track “Melanie Davis” (with verses that make the head involuntarily move from left to right) into the album and it would have been better, even if it feels more like The Village Green Preservation Society than I Should Coco.

It’s a relatively minor quibble, though. If Supergrass hadn’t caught up fully lyrically to where they were musically, that was less of an issue with the songs as good as they were musically. They hadn’t abandoned their sense of fun from their debut, they’d only gotten smarter and more expansive. Pop, rock, punk and glam were part of this infectious stew.

As terrific as In It For the Money was, the “pop” part of the term “Britpop” unfortunately didn’t translate to America.

The top 20 singles the week of the album’s release featured a few VH-1 type artists — Sheryl Crow, Paula Cole and Jewel and a bit of outright pop in the Spice Girls. Most of it, though, was R&B and hip hop — Puff Daddy, Monica, Dru Hill, Foxy Brown, Mark Morrison and a presence that looks much worse now — R. Kelly.

While Blur was about to have its biggest hit album in the U.S. with its self-titled album (thanks to “Song 2”), the alternative charts here were filled up at year’s end by the likes of “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Sex and Candy.”

It was this country’s loss, not just with the first two albums.

Supergrass followed up with four more releases, ranging from good to very good, between 1999 and 2008. All but one of them were, like their predecessors, Top 10 in the band’s home country.

Internal differences then led to the band splitting up during recording of Release the Drone. Allegedly a more experimental effort that was close to being finished, it remains unreleased.

Gaz put out a trio of well-received solo albums (check out 2015’s Matador first). Quinn eventually joined Swervedriver as a full-time member. Goffey’s been involved in a variety of projects.

The group reunited, at least for live shows, in 2019. A number of reunion gigs wound up being put on hold because of the pandemic. As of now, there are no plans for a new album — Gaz has his next solo album in the works. That’s one way to avoid tensions and creative differences in the studio.

If I Should Coco was a bright display of a young men dizzy with possibility, those possibilities were even more fully realized on In It For The Money, a prospect that Supergrass was clearly finding joy in as they were doing it. It remains as vibrant a listen now as it was after that hour-long drive home from the record store in 1997.

 

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