Review Summary: "Road to Rouen" is an excellent collection of songs from the most consistently talented and clever bands to grace the planet this past decade.
For those who would compare this release to previous efforts, it is not as brazen and crackling as "Coco", nor is it as filled with new energy and momentum as "In It For The Money." It shares a little of the melancholy sound and dark atmosphere of "X-Ray" and has very little in common (style-wise) with "Life on Other Planets." It is a well-scripted and marvelously conceived journey through new territory.
This release can be divided into two primary sections... The first begins with "Tales of Endurance - Parts 4, 5 and 6" which can be seen as a testament to Supergrass as a band that has spent the last decade and more re-defining music with sometimes little recognition for the brilliance embodied by their efforts. Clever tongue-in-cheek sarcasm pokes fun at themselves as well as the vision over success approach to music. A wide variety of instruments abound with the three parts shifting gears from a western-style guitar building eventually into a solid rock production.
The first half of the release continues with "St. Petersburg" which is a piano-led gentle roller that features a stunning array of late 60's-style instruments including a splendid string section and a kind of strolling pace.
"Sad Girl" uses a brilliant organ-laden foundation to tell its story. The steady beat leads the song along as it moves from one section to another. I know I am not alone in favorably comparing this one to the latter Beatles efforts, when the genius was at its most uncaring of public acceptance.
The last song of the first half, "Roxy" is an amazing song. Again, it is not a rocker as much as it is a symphony Supergrass-style. I can't express how superb this song is. The complex and stirring orchestral sound that accompanies the majority of the song add a majesty to the music that has not been captured by a band in such a long time. It rocks out to its conclusion ending the first half of a brilliant release.
"Coffee in the Pot" is the instrumental intermission. It is meant to be a light buffer between the first half which builds up to "Roxy" before moving on to the second act. This song is short, humorous and included for the sole purpose of drawing a line between one side of the "record" and the other.
The title track is a solid seventies-style rocker with a police-chase-through-the-streets-of-San Francisco soundtrack and an occasionally Bowie-esque lyrical style. Complete with a little siren sound-byte thrown in the more quiet moments, and a driving beat, this is one of the heavier tracks as far as setting a groove.
"Kick in the Teeth" is the closest Supergrass comes to giving fans a taste of their previous catchy verse, defined chorus style of music. It shows that while the Wheatly lads have developed an even more versatile sound, they are still capable of throwing a bone to the fans stuck in a previous era of Supergrass.
At this point the songs begin to wind to a close. "Low C" is a somewhat Lennon-sounding song that uses a light piano and a kind of tavern-band drum beat (similar to the beat and tempo of "Sex") to roll along.
The final song, appropriately titled "Fin", quietly closes the release. It is soft and filmy and filled with such a sense of the sublime it leaves you with a sense of loss akin to reading the last page of a beloved book.
This may need a few listens to grow on people expecting a heavier rock-and-roll or pop sound. "Road to Rouen" may not be the greatest thing ever released by Supergrass, but that is only because they have put out such brilliant material over the past decade and more. It is more complex than anything they've done to date, but if you run through it a few times you will see that it is a marvel in it's own right. It is not a long-playing release, but at just over 35 minutes, it is long enough to express all of the elements without losing its soul. I think it is a stunning addition to their catalog.