I was never a huge Supergrass fan. I appreciated their ability to write a catchy tune, but found their kookiness off-putting. Having revisited some of their earlier records while writing this review, that was probably an unfair criticism that I based solely on their first record I Should Coco. Matador changed my perception of Gaz Coombes from being simply a Britpop casualty, to something more legitimate.
On Matador, Coombes’ voice has a soulful quality I never heard in his Supergrass output. It floats effortlessly over the arrangements and veers from a Freddy Mercury croon, to David Bowie solemnity, without ever sounding forced or affected. The album opener, Buffalo, showcases the beauty of his voice, and is a sign of intent for how complex and solid the rest of the album will be. It establishes the optimistic but slyly dark tone of the record, and includes embellishments and shifts that prevent it from becoming a power ballad.
These ornate touches are found throughout all the songs, with little headphone tweaking details that give the record different textures to keep your ears interested.
The album is jammed with engaging songs, from 20/20 to The English Ruse, while the straight-ahead and hooky tracks like Detroit and The Girl Who Fell Earth make the record feel like a complete experience. The album gathers pace in the second half and from Needles’ Eye onwards it feels as compelling as a good film or book and keeps the listener invested in how it ends. Seven Walls is grand and epic and sounds huge, with vocals that soar, an eratic and persistent synth riff, crashing drums and a fuzz drenched guitar, all combined to create one of 2015’s most enjoyable cacophonies so far. Seven Walls is followed by the intricate and unsettlingly beautiful Oscillate, the slow-burning, aching To The Wire, and the abruptly ending, closing title track Matador, which left me wishing there was another song to come.
At 38 minutes, the record feels tight and succinct, and never allows the listener to drift off with superfluous tracks or over-long indulgences. I am of the opinion that 40 minutes is the sweet spot for a record – Harvest. Rust Never Sleeps. Marquee Moon. Born to Run. John Wesley Harding. Some artists can get away with more, but not many. Of course, as soon as I make such a declaration I immediately think of records that break this rule (Hail to the Thief, Blood on the Tracks, Blur, Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)) but it really takes something special to maintain a complete hold over a listener for an extended period of time.
Recommendation: Mandatory – possibly the best record of 2015 so far.