Indulgence can be its own reward. Take In It for the Money, the wild, careening sophomore set from Supergrass. Flush with success and fresh out of adolescence, the Britpop trio embraced all the new adventures heading their way, a journey that steadily pulled them away from the frenzied pleasures of their 1995 debut I Should Coco. Where their peers sang of common people and wonderwalls, Supergrass concerned themselves with teenage thrills: buzzing on speed, getting busted by cops, telling dirty jokes, and hanging out with friends. At the center of the album was the smash hit “Alright,” an incandescent pop song about being young, dumb, and free. Other bands might have chased the charts by attempting to re-create the spirit of “Alright.” Supergrass instead chose to see how fast and far they could run.
In It for the Money isn’t so much a departure from I Should Coco as a progression. Often, it feels as if Supergrass are attempting to offer a crash course in the history of British rock, cramming in elements borrowed from the swinging 1960s and 1970s classic rock, then filtering these well-known sounds through the irreverence of punk. They still sound vigorous—witness the rampaging single “Richard III”—but they lack the exuberance that fueled their first album. The shift was necessary for their long-term survival. “Alright” threatened to pigeonhole Supergrass as loveable teenage imps, a role they played to the hilt in the song’s supremely silly video. (They played their part so well that Steven Spielberg believed Supergrass would be ideal candidates for a gen-X spin on the Monkees.)
Supergrass turned down Spielberg, choosing instead to do the things normal rock’n’roll bands do: play an enormous amount of shows before hunkering down in the studio to make another record. It helped that Supergrass had arrived just as the Britpop wave crested, its rising tide not only lifting the shaggy group into the Top Ten but putting them squarely within a happening scene. They shared space on charts and festival bills with the amiably straightforward likes of Cast, Sleeper, the Bluetones, and Ash, yet they were qualitatively different, possessing punk-pop smarts to rival Elastica, a brawnier musicality than Oasis, and a self-evident sense of humor.
All of this comes to a head on In It for the Money, an album where the riffs and jokes are wrapped in woolly psychedelia, blaring horns, and splashes of sweet melancholy. Where I Should Coco blew by at a breakneck pace, In It for the Money unfolds with a deliberate sense of drama, slowly coming into focus with the menacing swirl of the title track and proceeding to ebb and flow across its 12 songs. The record feels so unified that it’s remarkable to realize they entered the studio in 1996 with only two completed songs in tow, forcing them to write the bulk of the album during the recording sessions. Along for the ride was Rob Coombes, a keyboardist who was the brother of Supergrass frontman Gaz. He’d been on the band’s periphery for a while, hammering out the piano to “Alright” and playing woozy organ on “Going Out,” the stopgap 1996 single Supergrass released between their first and second albums, but he’s an integral part of In It for the Money, earning writing credits on all 12 songs and adding distinctive color throughout. (Rob Coombes would officially become a member of Supergrass in 2002.)
Listen closely—or spend some time with the clutch of monitor mixes and rough versions that fill the second disc of the new 3xCD deluxe reissue of the 1997 album—and it’s apparent that Supergrass did indeed write In It for the Money in the studio. Many of the songs are rooted in vamps that blossom into full songs: The slinky funk that propels the verses of “Cheapskate,” the circular stomp on “G-Song,” the lazy, shambling gait of “Hollow Little Reign” all bear telltale signs of compositions that began as group jams. None of these songs sound tossed off, though, littered as they are with overdubs, backwards guitars, and sound effects. Supergrass couldn’t resist any bit of studio trickery when they were making In It for the Money, yet they retained their sense of concise craft. The record feels vibrant, not overstuffed.
The triple-disc reissue of In It for the Money can dampen some of the album’s energy. Some fine B-sides, such as the tuneful neo-music-hall ramble “Melanie Davis,” are buried among the alternate mixes and working versions on the second disc, a collection of ephemera that plays better as individual tracks than as an album. The disc of live recordings is another story. Anchored by a full show from January 1998, a concert given nearly a year after the release of In It for the Money, the live disc shows Supergrass at full roar, turning these studio creations into breakneck rockers.
The title of In It for the Money is a nod toward Frank Zappa’s anti-hippie classic We’re Only In It for the Money. Supergrass may not sound anything like the Mothers of Invention, but their choice reflects the extent to which they were steeped in rock history. Supergrass never attempted to be innovators. They were magpies who busied themselves with figuring out how to assemble pieces of glam, psychedelia, punk, and pop in fresh, surprising ways. They would continue to hone their craft, making sleeker albums than In It for the Money, yet the group’s enthusiasm and imagination are at a peak here. They sound delighted to discover their full potential, and that giddiness remains infectious decades later.
Buy: Rough Trade
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