The former Supergrass frontman releases his third solo offering on May 4th. Following on from 2012’s Here Come the Bombs and 2015’s Mercury Prize Nominated Matador, World’s Strongest Man sees him continue to progress to a more mature sound. Although this does somewhat state the bleedin’ obvious. It’s easy to forget that Coombes was just 18 when Supergrass released their 1995 Debut I Should Coco, already having one record deal under his belt with The Jennifers.
Produced by Coombes along with Ian Davenport, this record is rich with haunting melodies, catchy hooks, harmonies and Fuzz Guitar. The inspiration for the album came mainly from the artist Grayson Perry’s book The Decent of Man, an examination of the effect of societal gender roles on the modern man, and the record’s introspective lyrics lay bare feelings of inadequacy and isolation coupled with singer’s own struggles with depression.
The falsetto opening title track World’s Strongest Man is wonderfully atmospheric and has a feel of A Golden Age period Bobby Conn. This leads us into the throbbing bass and synths of Deep Pockets which is the first single to be taken from the album. Shit, I’ve Done It Again is a string and guitar laden showcase of Coombes and Davenport’s production skills, giving way to Slow Motion Life. This emotional soundscape is built from a simple piano riff and gentle lyrics of failed therapy that builds to a beautifully produced crescendo. Wounded Egos is a stomping drum and synth track that provides a wonderful juxtaposition by conjuring images of loutish extremists backed by a children’s choir. The cautionary Oxygen Mask has a great vocal hook that will be a personal earworm for every future aircraft safety briefing.
After an ethereal opening, the guitar cranks up for In Waves which is built around a looping power riff, however its treated to the producing duo’s proficiencies and vocal harmonies turn it into something that feels completely different from a band made three chord trick. Its worth noting that Coombes played every instrument on the record and In Oaks shows that he’s no slouch behind a drum kit with a core catchy drum fill which tight layers of strings and syths are built around. The penultimate track Vanishing Act comes in at less than three minutes but that’s plenty of time for him to step on the fuzz pedal. Coombes has described this song as ‘a panic attack’ albeit one that’s set to a pounding rhythm. Vocal harmonies lead us into the album closer Weird Dreams where once again, introspective lyrics and melodic hooks remind us how far he’s come from the fresh faced, mutton chopped youngster we met in 95.
World’s Strongest Man is a tour de force of Gaz Coombes’ abilities as an artist, musician and producer. He’s managed to create something truly personal and beautiful with this record. Taking the risk to challenge himself has paid off and I suspect he will again be in the running for a Mercury prize. The album artwork was shot in LA and he last played Stateside at SXSW back in March. He embarks on a UK tour in May and we can only hope he’s back here again soon to promote this record.