Thursday, 11 March 2010
Super Furry Animals - An appreciation
Much is written about perfect pop music but what is it? Girls Aloud? Arctic Monkeys? Destiny’s Child?
For me perfect pop music is music that is laden with melody but it also has to be ever so slightly subversive – acts that spring to mind are the Small Faces, ELO, the Clash, the Beatles and the Byrds. In recent years music has, in my opinion, become increasingly split between those who strive for chart success and those that couldn’t care less preferring to stay underground and plough their own furrow with few managing to bridge the gap between the two.
There are exceptions – Radiohead spring to mind as do Massive Attack, Supergrass, Goldfrapp and Beck but the masters of the art are surely Super Furry Animals. This is a band that take tanks to gigs but has top 10 hits, a band who record welsh language albums but headline festivals and a band whose lead singer gets nominated for the Mercury music prize for a concept album about John Delorean.
The Super Furries emerged out of post Oasis era Creation records in the late 1990's. They couldn’t be more different – while Oasis took the established template of male rock n roll (Beatles, Slade and Smiths) to create a safe but roof raising stadium sound, SFA were influenced more by the 1970’s era Beach Boys, Sparks, ELO and 1970s welsh folk to create their stunning debut Fuzzy Logic. It referenced Howard Marks, Shellsuits and Unicorns suggesting that real psychadelia was alive and well in Wales. The hooks of the guitar driven tracks God, show me magic and If you don’t want me to destroy you were infectious while the slower tracks most notably Gathering Moss were heartfelt. The lyrics were weird but intriguing enough to draw the listener in.
Momentum was maintained with Radiator and Guerilla – albums that covered all bases including synth pop, techno, ballads, electronica, indie, folk and rock . By this time their cover art was evolving into a distinct brand via the excellent visual art of Pete Fowler and their videos were becoming notable for their use of abstract humour and attention to detail.
Rings around the world is considered by many to be their classic album. It’s certainly the most fully realised – an album that perfectly captured the millennial themes of Bill Clinton’s adultery, Global Warming and Christian fundamentalism and yet was never heavy going and always melodic. If you want an entry point I suggest this or Gruff Rhys’ excellent solo album Candylion which provides a folkier take on the SFA sound.
Phantom Power followed before the release of Lovekraft in 2005. This is undoubtedly my favourite SFA album – it is much more pastoral and less guitar oriented than their other work and brings to mind the mellow guitar work of 1970’s Pink Floyd. The first track alone is over 8 minutes long, starts with one of the band jumping into a swimming pool and ends with a Catalonian choir. The album as a whole brings to mind the Beatles White album which can’t be a bad thing (Its shorter too).
Since Lovekraft one senses that the band have tried to go back to basics with shorter songs and more guitar driven melodies. Hey Venus and Dark Days/Light Years contain some fantastic moments – including the frankly bizarre krautpop of Inaugural trams – a song about integrated transport systems that features a rap from one of Franz Ferdinand. Each of the band has also involved themselves in solo projects – most notably Gruff Rhys whose Neon Neon project with Boom Bip moved into synthesized pop territory and was critically acclaimed.
It is unlikely that Super Furry Animals are going to have a huge hit at this stage of their career (they are the wrong side of 40) but one senses that they just might and in a just world they would dominate the top 10 for months to come. Their hooks are fantastic and yet they are as experimental as any band around. They are also a fantastic live band with their gigs feeling like five in one (an indie bit, a psychedelic bit, a techno freakout bit etc etc) If you haven’t given them a listen do so – I suspect you’re gonna like it! You’ll find them on Youtube, Spotify, Itunes and lovely black vinyl. To paraphrase Dr Johnson a man who is tired of Super Furry Animals is a man who is tired of life...here's one for starters...