The trouble with putting out a greatest-hits album is that it invites listeners to close the book on your band. Hitting the high points of Supergrass' four albums, last year's Supergrass Is 10: Best Of 94-04 neatly encapsulated the band's career, from the bratty energy of the early singles to the more complex middle albums through the expansive later work.
So where to go from there? Supergrass seems a bit flummoxed about that on the new Road To Rouen, although the title is sure to make it a hit in the Venn overlap of Ramones fans and French-geography aficionados. The album is heavy on texture and short on shape. The Small Faces-for-today's-kids sound has been repurposed toward atmospherics, and even the songs with muscular melodies, like the late-album track "Kick In The Teeth," take unexpected left turns. Some tracks stretch on forever, but the album ends suddenly at the 35-minute mark.
"We welcome commercial suicide," Gaz Coombes states openly on the album-opening "Tales Of Endurance (Parts 4, 5 & 6)," and the album bears that statement out. Kind of. Though sure to be dismissed by those listening for the next "Caught By The Fuzz," Road To Rouen is likely to draw in those who give it a repeat spin. For all the self-conscious maturity on display, it's still an awfully pretty album, one that creates a mood and doesn't veer from it. (Well, apart from the short, silly sidetrack "Coffee In The Pot.") Who knows where the band will go from here, if anywhere; closing an album with a track called "Fin" raises all kinds of questions. But Road To Rouen proves that Supergrass, after closing the book on one decade, still had at least one more chapter to write.