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Supergrass (Island)

For the past seven years, the British pop-punk trio Supergrass has made a comfortable career out of defying standard rock conventions at every turn. The band was composed of teenagers when it unleashed its first single, 1994's "Caught by the Fuzz," a track that garnered it a record contract and a couple of follow-up singles. Supergrass's full-length debut, the startlingly fresh and distinctive I Should Coco came out a year later and was a smash in the U.K. In 1997, Supergrass faced down the sophomore jinx with the patently brilliant and impossibly mature In It for the Money, which deepened the band's following at home and landed it on a wide variety of Top 10 lists for the year. Now, the band has entered the inevitable and much more dangerous "seven-year-itch" period, where it could find itself stymied by the creative tension that comes with familiarity and a long professional relationship. Luckily, it has refused to believe the industry clichés to this point and doesn't seem ready to start buying into that propaganda at this late date.

Supergrass's eponymous third album is a treasure trove of pop influences filtered through the twisted energy of singer-guitarist Gaz Coombes, bassist Mickey Quinn, and drummer Danny Goffey (and, as on Money, ably assisted by Gaz's brother, keyboardist Robert Coombes). The cover image of the trio revealed inside out in x-ray form is an apt metaphor, as Supergrass becomes slightly more transparent about its influences even as it more fully integrates them into its signature sound. For its third movement, Supergrass offers a British pop amalgam of the Jam's cool verve ("Mary," "Pumping on Your Stereo"), Squeeze's cliquey deconstructionist new wave ("What Went Wrong in Your Head," "Jesus Came From Outta Space"), and a funky undercurrent that has only been hinted at previously. Supergrass's greatest strength is its ability to make the most innocuous pop music sound indispensable while simultaneously making it sound like enormous fun.

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