Raging Bull – a look back at Gaz Coombes’ Matador
Updated: Nov 2
Supergrass were larger than life, joyous, cartoon pop. They banged out hit after hit, and though there was musical growth, they were saddled with this somewhat unfair comedy band label.
Caught By The Fuzz, Alright, Mansize Rooster, Pumping On Your Stereo were all great, giddy, fun pop songs. But they also produced some serious, thoughtful music too, that gets overlooked, such as Low C, Tales Of Endurance, Pt 4, 5 and 6….in fact the whole of 5th album Road To Rouen was dark, even brooding at times…though the next album’s Diamond Hoo ha Man’s “BITE ME” chorus brought the pop fun back front and centre.
When Gaz Coombes went solo, he took a different direction. There was less comedy pop. The songs were more complex, experimental. Second solo album Matador built on his debut solo album, Here Come The Bombs. musicOMH's Ben Hogwood called Matador’s music and the songs "a step forward" and said the album reveals Coombes' "darker, more experimental side". As ever, the lovely Mr Hogwood is right indeed.
The cover is an homage to Bowie’s Heroes album, but the albums share much in common to my mind. Heroes was Bowie’s 12th album, Matador was Coombes’ 10th (six albums with Supergrass, one unreleased Supergrass album, one covers album with The Hotrats and his debut solo album).
Both albums came after an album that was a sharp turn on their predecessors. Low was a radical change from Bowie’s previous records - electronic, half of it instrumental, cold and icy – the characters like Ziggy were firmly gone forever. Here Comes The Bombs was similarly sublime, its choruses obscured by the music, less catchy, but still great music. His teeth may have been clean, but he no longer needed to sing about them.
Heroes and Matador built on these shifts in direction. Low took people by surprise; Heroes took that surprise on a stage further, the most complete of his Berlin trilogy. It’s an album of two halves again, the twisted pop songs, and the daunting angst, with an added dose of neuroticism, the krautrock, electronic instrumentals continuing on from Low. Blackout is paranoid, hallucinatory schizophrenia, Heroes anthemic, but distorted genius. V-2 Schneider is Kraftwerk with saxophones.
Matador kicks off with the gentle staccato piano of Buffalo, as Gaz announces he’s an “acrobat in the dark” and sings of giant leaps, before he screams the chorus “Because all my tears fall like sand”. Soon, The English Ruse’s metronic pulsing beat continues into more experimental, unfamiliar territory, its opening lyric “I’m in league with the humans” is very Bowie, loving the alien. I love its sudden break into a spacey choral section, before the pulsing beats come back with a vengeance.
Paranoia dominates Matador, as Bowie’s Heroes is obsessed by the anxieties of the cold war. Detroit is deceptively poppy, soulful even, but its chorus “there’s panic in my heart” is far from lightweight, a tale of drug induced meltdown (and another nod to Bowie - Panic In Detroit?). It’s the album’s perfect moment. Oscillate,with its hypnotic, Kid A-esque electronics, has a repeated line “take a walk in your eyes, far away”, which reminds me of Blackout’s “kiss you in the rain, kiss you in the rain”, though the latter romps off into a disco stomp, while Oscillate drifts away gently.
The Bowie nods continue with The Girl Who Fell To Earth, wistful, his voice better than it’s ever been – “tear it down and play rough” he sings, but the tune is far from rough, it’s quite beautiful, an exquisite ode to his daughter, who has autism.
20/20 is another standout, it’s swelling, joyous gospel backing vocals and rousing tune – “it’s alright, the end’s in sight. Worry fades the soul away”.
Bowie may have not be able to say no to Beauty and the Beast, but on closer Matador, Gaz assures his love that he’ll “face the Beast and fight like a matador”. Like Bowie, Coombes has continued to experiment, to change. Paranoid, twitchy, maturing and setting a path for the future, Matador is his Heroes, which is very much a compliment.
He’s back with Supergrass again right now, and great fun this is too. But I think there’s more sides to Gaz that we still haven't seen and I hope he lets his inner-Bowie out to play again soon.
Matador has become one of my all-time favourite albums, its successor, World’s Strongest Man is just as good. I am looking forward to his Heathen, his The Next Day and even his Blackstar. Let’s just hope he dodges a Never Let Me Down…