The World’s Strongest Man – Gaz Coombes
Like fine wine…the perfect midlife dystopian tinged album. Drinking well in 2018, or cellar for later.
I never really loved Supergrass, the Britpop trio that had a smash hit album ‘I Should Coco’ in 1995…you know the one with ‘Alright’ and ‘Mansize Rooster’ on it. The album that I bought and enjoyed in indie night clubs whilst swilling cheap beer, smoking far too many fags and behaving like a typical 20 year old ‘lad’ (cringe).
Like their most popular hit, Supergrass were alright and as time went on I enjoyed some of their later tracks, particularly ‘Moving’ off their third self-titled album in 1999. Even ‘Road to Rouen’ from 2005 was an also pretty decent album, without placing them in my personal A-list of acts. Respected but never truly adored.
Then Gaz Coombes went solo. First with ‘Here Come the Bombs’ in 2012, which I initially thought was very good, but has improved more and more with further listens. But in truth I fell in love with Coombes’ music with his second solo offering ‘Matador’ in 2015. This was an album loaded with wonderful songs, and an atmosphere that blended classic indie rock and pop with the motorik beats of Krautrock that has become so popular this decade. An amazing record, with an absolute standout track (and video) in ‘Detroit’.
So with great anticipation and expectation Gaz has released his third album, ‘The World’s Strongest Man’, an album that seemingly commentates the role of masculinity in a world besieged with fear and political polarisation. The album begins with the ferocious title track, where Coombes’ seems to reflect the almost futile nature of being a man in the late 2010s…of how a middle aged man (Coombes is 42) can be at odds with his existence and supposed role but doesn’t really want to be. At first its’ bluesy aggression is off-putting but it makes sense in the context of the album. Following this, ‘Deep Pockets’ and ‘Walk the Walk’, tracks that have been circulating around for a few months, explore the concept of masculinity and being middle aged through deeper grooves and indie funk respectively. ‘Shit, I’ve done it again’ is even more literal in its’ approach and confessions of ‘I don’t want this party thrown’ over atmospherics that would sit well on an early 21st century chill out album is like a exhale, a sign that Coombes cares no more for being quite so hedonistic. ‘Slow Motion Life’ is next, and it’s beautiful reflection and exclamations that ‘i’d pay to leave the these tears behind’ suggests that whilst you can move on, that you need to move on, the legacy of the past still will always remain. Heavy stuff indeed, this masterful piece reminds me of the Coldplay of their first few albums, when you felt they meant it and in grand scale.
The poppy ‘Wounded Egos’ ends Side A of the album with a much more political finger point at a world where ‘right-wing psychos’ collude with the ‘madness outside’ and how Coombes or his alter-ego is ‘waiting for it all to end’. It even includes a kid’s choir to provide a bit of symbolic hope…that maybe the past few years have been simply a phase that the kids will get us out of. Side B continues the dystopian theme with ‘Oxygen Mask’ and extends upon it with a world that is changing with ‘drones to your door’…it would fit well on ‘OK Computer’ thematically and musically, and is at least the equal of anything off that much lauded record. ‘In Waves’ is psychedelic and in the past few weeks of listening to this record it has become a favourite.
Then ‘The Oaks’ comes in and brings the protagonist of this record back to being awake and needing to confess that ‘i didn’t want to find what i was looking for’ and ‘when it all gets real, all i want is you’. It’s the standout and rewards further listening. Then, in bi-polar fashion, ‘Vanishing Act’ is an angry post-punk indie tune, where the world’s strongest man needs a mask (‘gonna put on my happy face!’). Then album closer ‘Weird Dreams’ suggests through an almost poetic mantra with delicate and beautiful twinkly music, that even though life and the world itself can be a nightmare and very, very intimidating, we all need to keep going and maybe accept that all the bad things are just a dream of sorts, good or bad..after all, love will overwhelm any bad feelings and give us hope to go ‘do it again’. Coombes almost seems to suggest here that some of us, the good ones anyway, should get away from the bad eggs and find another planet.
If there is such a place, then I’d be keen to visit. Or at least watch a movie based upon this record. ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ is a fantastic album and I think I will adore its’ beautiful eclectic musical and lyrical themes even more as time goes on. Sure, gender stereotype questioning and socio-political dystopias have been presented plenty of times before…but not always with such a brilliant soundtrack.