Supergrass | Life on Other Planets | Island

Here’s an exercise in futility: Imagine a music scene where pop does not exist.

Almost as futile: trying to sort out how to describe Supergrass’ new album, Life on Other Planets, without listing half of the pop acts the last decade or more. So lets just not do it, ok? Because the whole point of good pop is that it sounds like everything else, except cooler.

The album displays a promiscuity of influences, although that may be due to producer Tony Hoffer’s presence. The man who helped mold Air and bring out the groove in Beck has left his mark here as well; calling this album “effects-laden” is like saying Phil Spector can be “quirky.” Example: “Seen the Light” features distorted guitars, chirping, Elvis impressions and a rather exciting array of bleeps, bloops and sheep.

Some bands have the chameleonic chops Supergrass displays here, the ability to pack a career’s worth of different sounds into one album. Few bands can make it work as seamlessly, without sacrificing something essential on the altar of virtuosity.

The first track, “Grace,” is peppy, happy pop, replete with driving beats, great piano and the snappiest hook penned this year. It’s uplifting to hear such craftsmanship purely in the service of good times. It is even better to be able to listen to music like this without feeling vaguely – or seriously – guilty, as one does after digging out the Avril Lavigne album hidden under the mattress when no one else is home. The first half of the album is lighthearted fun, the kind of songs played to best advantage in a car on your way to Las Vegas.

“Hangman” exemplifies the slower, moodier, second half of the album, with the kind of songs that you would put on while slouching away from Vegas – poorer, hung over and mildly let down. “Hangman” is also the best song on the album, managing to be gentle and intense at the same time and reminding us all how satisfying it is to be melancholy from time to time.

Every song is unique, but what unifies the album is the sense of fun (yes, even in the sad songs) that infuses it, the solid production and the sincere eclecticism. There’s just one question: Why a sheep?

[Owen Salisbury doesn’t know where that Avril Lavigne album came from… even though it’s not that bad, really.]