Diamond Hoo Ha
"You get the feeling that, in the long run, Diamond Hoo Ha is destined to be remembered as one of the lesser works in their canon"
Rating: 6 / 10
Paul Nolan, 19 Mar 2008
Britpop survivors continue to explore darker terrain on their sixth album, but fail to reach former heights
It seems strange that Supergrass are still with us after all this time. Each new record they release comes as a pleasant surprise; you feel that, somehow, they should have long since succumbed to one of the various ills that have befallen the other leading lights of the Britpop movement, be it creative burn-out, internal squabbles or declining public interest.
But, with the exception of Oasis (who themselves are – artistically at least – a spent force), Supergrass remain the only men standing from the heady summer of 1995. They never really followed through on the commercial potential of their No.1 debut album, I Should Coco, and its era-defining single, ‘Alright’, instead releasing a string of critically acclaimed albums which earned them a cult following, if not major crossover success.
Clearly, this is a state of affairs Supergrass are content enough with, since their sixth album, Diamond Hoo Ha (recorded in Berlin and Los Angeles with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds producer Nick Launay), is another cocktail of spiky guitar rock, oddball pop and dreamy psychedelia that’s likely to placate their fanbase, whilst remaining largely overlooked by the floating punter.
The album kicks off with ‘Diamond Hoo Ha Men’, which finds Supergrass continuing to chart a course through the darker terrain navigated on recent records. It’s built around a vintage riff from Gaz Coombes, who intones a lyric which suggests that, despite the surface happiness, all is not well in his world: “All I got is all I need/But what I really want is in my dreams/...Can’t you see I want you?”
They follow it up with the thumping rocker ‘Bad Blood’, which sees Coombes growl more pained lyrics (“I’m losing sleep… this bed ain’t filled with romance). The following two numbers jointly comprise the highpoint of Diamond Hoo Ha. First up is the Bowie-esque pop number ‘Rebel In You’, which boasts a beautifully strange, spacey interlude and infectious “oh-oh-ohs” from Coombes in the coda.
‘When I Needed You’, meanwhile, is a classic Supergrass blend of stomping rhythms, catchy piano riffs and piercing guitar, which again finds Coombes in introspective mood. There is a particularly inspired mid-section where, over psychedelic guitar, the singer ruminates that, “Out of my sorrows/Living out hollow still/I looked at those photos/For hours and hours”.
Also deserving special mention is ‘The Return Of…’ an incongruously upbeat track which features a hypnotic dream-pop chorus (complete with harp glissando) that truly enraptures. Unfortunately, it’s around this juncture that Diamond Hoo Ha starts to lose its way. It’s not that the remainder of the album is bad, necessarily, it’s just that it lacks a song that really knocks you sideways and has you rushing to listen to it again once the record has finished.
‘Rough Knuckles’ is quirk-pop-by-numbers, whilst ‘Ghost Of A Friend’ is an unremarkable up-tempo strummer. Even ‘Whiskey & Green Tea’ – inspired by a night on the tiles in Beijing – never really takes off, despite some abrasive punk thrashing and striking lyrics (“Climbing forbidden city walls…being chased by William Burroughs”).
The album concludes with ‘Butterfly’, a psychedelia-tinged rocker which – like much of the material that has preceded it – is solid without being spectacular. Supergrass are likely to hang around for a few more albums yet, but you get the feeling that, in the long run, Diamond Hoo Ha is destined to be remembered as one of the lesser works in their canon