Two years after the 2010 demise of his band Supergrass, Gaz Coombes brought us his debut Here Come The Bombs, a record which moved into his own head space in a way that was never really possible with Supergrass, while still displaying much of the character of the band. The citing of ‘musical differences’ when a band splits is at once standard and fascinating. To what extent is it true, and is it a shame that a band that was capable of such great music couldn’t maintain its cohesion and keep going? Sometimes, it all just gets too much. Coombes’ debut nevertheless hinted at a meaningful solo career, a man still filled with potential in his mid-30s.
A couple of years on, Coombes is moving into the latter stage of his 30s as he brings us his second solo attempt. ‘Attempt’ being the key word, as it’s very much both a hit and miss affair. It feels like he has moved too far away from what he does best at times. Maybe playing most of the instruments himself – as he does here – has become more important than bringing a group together to create relevant music. That’s not to say there’s no magic, or the treat of his gorgeous lilting voice, but two years on we were expecting more than this. The last song, all 85 seconds of the beautiful title track, is the highlight, but it comes across almost as an afterthought on a slightly odd album.
It seems messy, incoherent and a little too challenging. Take the opener, ‘Buffalo,’ for example. The first two verses and erupting choruses seem to have been put together like a patchwork quilt, and the part that really captures is the gentle last section. It is delightfully soulful, but by that stage the song has already failed to grab you, it just ends sweetly. Having watched Supergrass’ career and seen them live in the mid 90s, you can’t help but feel Coombes has lost his way a little. Perhaps there are so many ideas that none of them has a chance to truly blossom. ’2020′ takes over two minutes until it takes a turn and you start to think… ‘yes, this is it!’ He hasn’t lost the ability, simply his way, there are shards of incredibly bright light across the tracks, but the whole work lacks spark and control. It gives the sense of having nobody at the reins, and as a solo album, it really needs the artist whose name adorns the tin to take hold of proceedings. Sections of songs mesmerise, but very few whole tracks do. It’s the curse of this record, and it’s an awful disappointment, especially knowing how talented he is.
‘Seven Walls’ opens sparsely and there is an open sense of hope that hasn’t presided over many of the previous minutes of the album. It’s a one of the highlights, for sure. It takes its time, works its way in and then, yes, it explodes. The guitar crunches and there is swirling synth, but Coombes – whose guitar solos were the highlight of many a Supergrass record – drowns the solo here with keyboards, smothering what should be the lead. It is too cluttered, with Coombes more interested in showing that he can play several instruments without stopping to show that he can play any of them well.
It is hard to pick out singles from this bunch, hard to see it as a successful step forward from ‘…Bombs,’ and hard to see what comes next. Coombes has offered an album of confusion, doodles rather than a full picture. Perhaps it will prove the ultimate grower, but on initial listens it doesn’t have what you might expect from a man who, 20 years ago, was one of the key figures in the golden era of 90s guitar pop. He is capable of much more than this, and there is just enough to suggest that he still has it, if only he can apply more focus.