Even as sprightly young fellas, Supergrass’ musicianship shone through the Britpop crop, and erstwhile frontman and songwriter Gaz Coombes’ mastery of his craft is clear again on ‘Matador’, his second solo effort since the Oxford band’s dissolution. Here Coombes plays most of the instruments himself, articulating an emotionally raw collection of fluid, inventive and, occasionally, epic intent.
Displaying the magpie instincts of a skilled curator, Coombes colours his creations with a broad palette of contemporary influences, both artistic and technological. Opener ‘Buffalo’, a turbulent minor-key ballad, is the first to underlay guitar and piano with electronic beats and blips du jour, traces of Mount Kimbie minimalism seeping into an analogue frame. ‘20:20’ starts off similarly downtempo, before Malpas-like soprano harmonies give way to a show-stopping choral hook, whose soul-bearing slogan, “I’d Take The Hurricane For You”, is carried on a grandiose orchestral strain, before the verse builds again over a fat synth and arpeggio combo recalling Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’. Arcade Fire are then evoked on ‘The English Ruse’ – a Win Butlerish nursery-rhyme melody atop a two-chord synth pulse – although Coombes’ track has more sinewy stability than the Canadians’ teetering-on-collapse motif, and its outro, where distorted guitar-FX fizz and crack across the riff, is pure sonic buzz.
Despite the ambient loops and later the graceful strings, simple acoustic picking cores ‘The Girl Who Fell To Earth’, another lovely layered tune, which, aside from its shuddering bass-drop, gently flows through tributaries of harmony and structure as Coombes conjures a singular lullaby. ‘Needles Eye’, perhaps the album’s high-point, is another impassioned anthem, its initial languid groove supporting a set of disparate verses that flank an astounding chorus, centring on the line: “What If Nothing Could Tear Us Apart?” This contemplative choir-backed sonnet avoids the obvious sugary tropes of lovelorn defiance and is Coombes’ most mature track to date – a worldly-wise father to the likes of ‘Alright’.
The remainder of this short album – the final two tracks don’t reach two minutes between them – doesn’t hit these heights again, despite the rhythmically and lyrically fraught ‘To The Wire’. The song adds another facet to an absorbing record, where plain notions of verse-chorus-verse pop tunes are fractured with all manner of melodic twists, instrumental turns and dynamic variants – techniques only successfully deployed by the most gifted composers. Coombes has made his claim.