Enjoyment can be its own reward. Take In It for the Money, the wild, stormy second set of Super grass. Successful and fresh from puberty, the Britpop trio awakens to all the new adventures that lie ahead, a journey that steadily took them away from the insane joys of their 1995 debut I Should Coco. Where their peers sang about ordinary people and wonder walls, Supergrass engaged in adolescent thrills: high speed, arrested by police officers, told dirty jokes and hung out with friends. At the center of the album was the smash hit “Alright“, A fiery pop song about being young, stupid and free. Other bands may have chased the charts trying to recreate the spirit of “Alright”. Supergrass decided instead to see how fast and how far they could run.
In It for the Money is not so much a departure from I Should Coco, but an advancement. Often times it feels like Supergrass wants to offer a crash course in the history of British rock by cramming in elements from swinging classic rock of the 1960s and 1970s and filtering those familiar sounds through the irreverence of punk. They still sound powerful – like the angry single “Richard III” – but lack the exuberance that fueled their first album. The shift was necessary for her long-term survival. “Alright” threatened to classify Supergrass as adorable teenage goblins, a role they played to the extreme in the song’s goofy video. (They played their part so well that Steven Spielberg believed Supergrass would be ideal candidates for a Gen-X spin-on the monkeys.)
Supergrass turned down Spielberg and instead went for the things normal rock and roll bands do: play an enormous amount of shows before settling in the studio to record another record. It helped that Supergrass had gotten to the point when the Britpop wave was peaking. They shared their place on the charts and festival bills with graciously easy going folks like Cast, Sleeper, the Bluetones, and Ash, but they were qualitatively different and had punk-pop savvy to rival Elastic, a beefier musicality than oasis, and a natural sense of humor.
All of this comes to a head in In It for the Money, an album where the riffs and jokes are wrapped in woolly psychedely, booming horns, and splashes of sweet melancholy. Where I Should Coco flew by at breakneck pace, In It for the Money unfolds with a conscious sense of drama, slowly comes into focus with the threatening vortex of the title track and goes up and down its 12 songs. The record feels so uniform that it is noteworthy that they entered the studio in 1996 with only two completed songs in tow, which forced them to write most of the album during the recording sessions. There was Rob Coombes, a keyboardist who was the brother of Supergrass frontman Gaz. He was on the fringes of the band for a while, pounding the piano to “Alright” and playing Woozy organ on “Going Out,” the 1996 interim, the single Supergrass, which was released between their first and second albums, but he is an integral part of In It for the Money, writing credits for all 12 songs and adding a distinctive color. (Rob Coombes officially became a member of Supergrass in 2002.)
Listen carefully – or spend some time with the monitor mixes and rough versions that fill the second CD of the new 3xCD deluxe reissue of the 1997 album – and it’s obvious that Supergrass actually wrote In It for the Money in the studio Has. Many of the songs have their roots in vamps that blossom into whole songs: the seductive funk that drives the verses of “Cheapskate” forward, the circling pounding of “G-Song”, the lazy, shuffling gait of “Hollow Little Reign” all of them telltale signs of compositions that started out as group jams. However, none of these songs sound crazy, littered with overdubs, backward guitars and sound effects. Supergrass couldn’t resist studio tricks in the production of In It for the Money, but retained their sense of concise craftsmanship. The record feels alive, not cluttered.
The triple-disc reissue of In It for the Money can dampen the energy of the album a bit. Some fine B-sides, like the melodic neo-music hall walk “Melanie Davis”, are buried between the alternative mixes and working versions on the second disc, a collection of ephemera that can be played better as individual tracks than as an album . The CD with live recordings is a different story. Anchored by a full January 1998 show, a concert performed nearly a year after In It for the Money was released, the live CD shows Supergrass with a roar, turning these studio creations into breakneck rockers.
The title of In It for the Money is a nod to Frank Zappa‘s anti-hippie classic We’re Only In It for the Money. Supergrass may not sound like the Mothers of Invention, but their choices reflect the extent to which they are immersed in rock history. Supergrass never tried to be innovators. They were magpies busy figuring out how to put glam, psychedelia, punk and pop pieces together in fresh, surprising ways. They would continue to refine their craft and make sleeker albums than In It for the Money, but the group’s enthusiasm and imagination are at their peak here. They sound delighted to discover their full potential, and this vertigo remains contagious decades later.
Obtain: Rough trade
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