When Supergrass broke up abruptly in the middle of making an album in 2010, it was a bummer, but it had seemed for a little while that maybe their spark had been dimming, anyway. Their last couple records, 2005's "Road to Rouen" and 2008's "Diamond Hoo Ha," were confusing efforts that made the band seem tired and tryhard, in that order, and the off-the-rails fun that had made their first four records so delightful had gone missing. So, the breakup felt both unfortunate and, sadly, inevitable.
The last decade has seen frontman Gaz Coombes embark upon a respectable solo career with varying degrees of success, bassist Mick Quinn starting his own group and joining up with Swervedriver, drummer Danny Goffey doing his own solo thing (and putting out the best Supergrass-alum record with 2018's "Shtick"), and keyboardist Rob Coombes off being mysterious somewhere. As is usually the case with groups that split up, nothing they did on their own topped what they did as a band.
At the time of their greatest success in the '90s, Supergrass was such a low-drama band that it seemed that their output was overlooked, to a degree. Here were some goofy guys that made catchy songs, and they were so lovable that Steven Spielberg tried and failed to turn them into a Monkees for Generation X. (The band's rejection of Spielberg is a profoundly punk-rock move that must've taken some serious guts on the part of the young Supergrass.)
Looking back, though, it's hard to not declare Supergrass one of the best rock bands of their generation, and it's a shame they never broke big in the States. Their hyperactive debut was their biggest hit, and it's a effervescent smorgasbord of tight pop-rock, but their second LP, "In It for the Money," is a deeper, more rewarding listen that should be on many more best-of lists for that decade. Same old story: great band, underrated. So it goes.
With the group's out-of-nowhere reunion last fall, the time for a reconsideration is nigh, and the band's comprehensive box set "The Strange Ones: 1994-2008" is the conversation-starter. It not only contains all of their albums on picture-disc vinyl (a questionable decision, as picture discs tend to not sound as good as regular LP's do), but it's stuffed with seven CD's of live shows, outtakes, demos, whatsits, and howareyanows that make it a real treasure chest of 'grass goodies.
It's unlikely that anyone will begin their Supergrass voyage, here, and it's probably too much to ask, anyway. But if you're already a fan, or if you're a kind-of-fan with a couple hundred bucks burning a hole in your pocket, it's gonna be a must-buy for the rarities alone. You get previously-unreleased gems like the Police cover "Next to You," and fascinating early versions of classics like "Richard III" that reveal the band's creative process. You get songs like "Bury My Heart," which was recorded for "Diamond Hoo Ha" but never released (probably because it sounds like nothing else on that album). You get umpteen million live versions from throughout the group's initial run that show them in their full-bore glam-punk glory, as well as in their quieter, acoustic guises.
There's also a winnowed-down 2LP/1CD version that sticks to the group's singles and key album cuts — this would be a good starter kit for noobs, but so is the hits collection "Supergrass is 10" from 2004. Really, the best idea for those who haven't delved into the band is to start at the start and just go through their catalog in order. If you're not hooked from the beginning, well, forget it and go put on some Mel Torme or something.
Hopefully, the Supergrass reunion produces some new material, but, if it doesn't, this box will still stand as a great reminder of one of Britain's best rock groups of all time.
Album: "The Strange Ones: 1994-2008"
Personnel: Gaz Coombes (vocals, guitar), Mick Quinn (bass, vocals), Danny Goffey (drums, vocals), Rob Coombes (keyboards, vocals)
Tony Bennett reviews albums for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.