Review Summary: A mixed bag
When discussing a new album from a particular musician, critics occasionally resort to a word “mature”. My attitude towards it is ambivalent as it might indicate one of the two things. It could mean actual maturation, be it technical, lyrical and/or compositional. The musician takes a confident step forward within the confines of the sound, at times employing new means of expression. This is rightly met with enthusiastic and deserved praise.
In another instance, it may become a veiled synonym of the word “boredom”. The musician still demonstrates changes to the sound, however this time with a caveat. What it replaced or reinforced with is a pile of clichés, significantly worn out by others and long after they had any kind of originality. As a result, people, wo heard those clichés many times, can only feel boredom, having encountered them yet again.
The same word is quite often applied in regards to the new album Turn the Car Around
from Gaz Coombes (and to his solo output in general). But here is where the paradox lies this time. Usually it does not take long to determine on what side of the “mature” spectrum an album falls. Yet this time there is a stalemate. Even though the word can be easily used when talking about the Coombes’ solo career, both grades are applicable.
In all honesty, Gaz Coombes should be commended for his apparent unwillingness to repeat the Supergrass
sound while in solo waters. Not a single album released under his name bears the same delight in rock ’n’ roll and the sense of freedom it provides, exuberance and recklessness that we have heard on the releases of the British band. Gaz grew older, shedding his failed dream of rock ’n’ roll stardom – despite the excellent quality of the Supergrass
albums, the band remained in the shadows of its contemporaries. Such fate cannot be called fare, yet this is how the chips fell. So, instead Coombes employs a very different sound. Now he prefers meditative ruminations, his songs are full of sadness and contemplation. Giddiness is no longer suitable. This is something that happens naturally, and what can be called maturation.
The same can be said of his arrangements. Each song is a tight sound coil, consisting of various instruments and lines. They do not try to outshout each other, instead complementing each other organically in order to highlight the right mood. While during his Supergrass
days Coombes often preferred an everything-but-a-kitchen-sink approach, throwing a lot at you to see what sticks, today he favors confident professionalism.
However, the musician falls prey to the other side of maturation. You will not see any more lightweight and amusing foolishness of Alright, telling stories of girls and drinking from a teen’s perspective. Nowadays Coombes turns to sentences that aim for significance, yet often brought down by the lack of freshness in the form. And so, we have with such lines as “Life’s not the same” on the opening Overnight Trains
, that ends its chorus with bland “The dam will hold, the dam must hold”. Or there is another line from This Love
that sounds like “We just need to feel alive/We just need a fairer fight”.
And even though Coombes does not sound like Supergrass
, all he replaced it with multiple elements of indie rock, as if trying to draw your attention he is no longer backed by a major label. Occasionally, he would throw in some other genre – a shade of psychedelia on Don't Say It's Over
or a bit of glam on Long Live the Strange
, as an example. Still the primary structures of his sound lay on ever-present fuzzy guitars, acoustic strumming and cold synths, which, while competent, come off as derivative, failing to answer one question. Now that youthful exuberance and carelessness are supplanted with serious-minded professionalism, who is Gaz Coombes in his solo capacity? And this is where the main wrinkle is.