Super Furry Animals
If you’re new to the work of the Super Furries, think of them as sort of a Welsh version of Radiohead or the Flaming Lips but with a slightly more conventional songwriting approach and a tendency to genre-hop with abandon. Rings Around the World (2001) consolidated the strengths displayed on the band’s late ’90s efforts and tackled elaborate pop songs, glam rock, trip hop, progressive rock, and a few dozen other styles. Phantom Power, while perhaps not as impressive as its predecessors, continues the musical adventure.
Overall, the production (by the band) is more relaxed and strikes a lower profile here with the Super Furries settling into a bit of a groove. That doesn’t mean there is a uniformity of styles or moods however. Bacharach-ian horns rub shoulders with Beatle-y guitars, Stooges fuzz rock and Beach Boys-style harmonies. “Liberty Belle” is political protest in the guise of sunny pop. Singer Gruff Rhys comments on the recent war with Iraq: “Liberty Belle is ringing out across the sea / And everyone sings along / Though she’s singing way out of key.” The pretty, down to earth opener “Hello Sunshine” belies a palpable sadness. “In honesty it’s been awhile / Since we had reason left to smile,” Rhys sings. Pedal steel and strings flavor guitarist Huw Bunford’s quavering ode to childhood “Sex, War & Robots.” “If tears could kill / I’d be a long time gone,” he sings.
Then there is the stunningly inventive “The Piccolo Snare” with its headphone-worthy ’60s style folk vocal arrangement. What is practically a mini-rock opera all by itself acquires a dance beat by its conclusion. Harmonies add a nice sheen to fuzzy blues-rock thumper “Golden Retriever” while the vocals are distorted on driving rocker “Out of Control.” The neo-psychedelic bossa nova of “Valet Parking” also includes a few ba-ba-ba-la-la-la choruses. And the set closing “Slow Life” combines old school synth sounds and dance beats with harmonica and more strings.
Some may consider the Super Furries to be treading water on Phantom Power because it feels comfortable and familiar. But when something sounds this good and touches this many bases, I’ll take a few more like this one.