Back in the ’90s, there wasn’t much in common between Supergrass and Radiohead, aside from their Oxford roots. As Gaz Coombes has matured, however, his music has morphed closer to that of Thom Yorke and co. World’s Strongest Man is Coombes’ third album away from his former group, and it continues his voyage towards a more soulful, experimental and serious sound.
Supergrass always took inspiration from Bowie, but there are some wonderfully warped electronic soul cuts here, a little like something from Station To Station or Heroes – Deep Pockets’ motorik funk, say, or Walk The Walk’s grooving drones, with Coombes trying out his best lip-curling falsetto a la Josh Homme.
Elsewhere, there are a host of ballads that evoke Radiohead’s slower, more mournful moments: Slow Motion Life suggests the singer has been listening to Pyramid Song, his voice thin and keening like Yorke’s, while Weird Dreams mixes atmospheric drum machines and electronics, a chorus of Coombes’ and, finally, a stately, plodding piano.
That’s not to suggest that World’s Strongest Man is just a faux-In Rainbows. With glockenspiel, sampled vocals and warped strings, Shit (I’ve Done It Again) sounds like nothing Coombes has ever attempted, and is reminiscent of the slow, vocoder-led groove of prime Air, with Coombes singing: “Anyone can be the star…” In Waves suggests what Supergrass might have sounded like if they were still together, with a garagey guitar riff, fragmented bass, off-kilter drums and massed harmonies in constant movement throughout. The title track, meanwhile, is a circling delight, with Coombes examining the nature of masculinity over a rising, distorted crescendo of slow, guitar-led funk.
As a whole, World’s Strongest Man may not quite have the effervescent pop chops of Supergrass’ best work, but it’s Coombes’ finest effort so far as a solo artist, and comes with its own austere, but no less powerful, charm.