In the mid-90s, it appeared that almost every band was from Wales. The renaissance started with Manic Street Preachers, and Catatonia, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and possibly the best of the bunch, Super Furry Animals, followed in their wake.
The Super Furries sound was (and is, as the band are still a going concern) ambitious, vaguely psychedelic and at times staggeringly imaginative. They’re qualities very much to the fore in frontman Gruff Rhys’ second solo album.
Those people who loved the Super Furry Animals will find much to enjoy here. In contrast to Rhys’ first solo collection Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, Candylion is a much more tightly focused and accessible collection of songs (the title track has even found itself featuring heavily on Radio 2), but with enough depth and edge to banish any fears that Rhys may have sold out in some way.
For although the sound of Candylion is mostly acoustic based and rather pastoral, there are also some moments of experimentation that 90% of other bands wouldn’t dream of pursuing. There’s a song in Patagonian Spanish (Con Carino), the xylophone and nonsense lyrics of the title track and a near 15 minute epic about a hijacked plane that closes the album.
There are also moments of pure, lovely, folky pop – Beacon In The Light is a beautiful country-ish lament, while Lonesome Words has a acoustic lilt worthy of Nick Drake. Welsh language singer Lisa Jen also deserves a mention for her ethereal backing vocals – her voice merges perfectly with that of Rhys, especially on the title track and the hypnotic Cycle Of Violence.
We also have what could possibly be the very first Welsh driving song in Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru (literally translated as Drive Drive Drive), which is so catchy it should have a Government health warning slapped on it, and the excellent Now That The Feeling Has Gone, which starts off as pure jazz before dissolving into a typically psychedelic and uplifting Rhys masterpiece.
Nothing quite prepares you for Skylon however. Starting with a plane safety announcement, it quickly settles into a loping rhythm while Rhys describes a plane journey with “mediocre movies and frivolous magazines” while sat next to an actress whose work Rhys despises. There’s a sense of dread which builds nicely, there’s talk of thunder and lightning before a man appears with a “Semtex, disguised as a ticking beer can”. The song may last for 15 minutes, but it’s so gripping and beautifully written that it feels like half that time.
Qualities like intelligence, eclecticism and imagination sometimes seem to be in short supply in the music industry – Candylion encapsulates all these qualities and more and deserves a far wider audience than the cult status it will undoubtedly settle into.