It is easy to spring into default mode when it comes to reviewing the Super Furry Animals. They are one of the UK’s aka Wales’ national treasures after all, and you sometimes feel a little dirty attempting to criticize them.
Then again, is it just me or did Love Kraft and Hey Venus! mark the sound of a band treading water? Personally, I got more enjoyment out of Gruff Rhys‘ Candylion than the last two efforts by the Furries, hard though it may be to say it.
Nuff said, it is a pleasure to report that the latest SFA opus is a joy from start to finish. Joy is the operative word here, as those last two albums frequently lacked that all important quality.
This is, after all, an album that opens with a track called Crazy Naked Girls. More to the point, after almost a minute of studio chatter and laughter the band get around to actually starting the song, which then turns into a life-affirming romp that manages to slip in references about ‘slitting wrists’ and make them sound cheerful.
Dark Days/Light Years sees the Furries dividing up songwriting duties in a more egalitarian mode than previous records (maybe Gruff Rhys was knackered after his Neon Neon exploits), and the result is a more upbeat album. Gone are the stoned countryish ballads that punctuated Love Kraft, and in their place are some great guitar-heavy stomps that draw on glam rock as a reference point.
The Furries have been doing this since day one of course (Bad Behaviour from their debut springs to mind), but it is still a thrill to crank up tracks such as Mt. and Inconvenience and revel in the sheer daftness of it all. The former riffs around Cian Ciaran’s repeated refrain of ‘it was a big fucking mountain/so I climbed up the mountain’, but the absurdity of the lyric is forgotten as the band kicks into overdrive.
Much of what is on offer here affirms the Super Furry Animals as a law unto themselves, musical eccentrics who mix up guitar rock, electronic flourishes, false endings that other bands would die for, a penchant for absurd song titles (The Very Best Of Neil Diamond, White Socks/Flip Flops take a bow), and occasional forays in their mother tongue (represented here by the sparkling Lliwiau Llachar, which I’m reliably informed translates as Intensely Bright Colours).
After the wham-bam-thank-you-mam conciseness of Hey Venus!, it is pleasing that the Furries feel free to indulge their prog rock tendencies on Dark Days/Light Years. Album closer Pric descends into a delicious guitar freakout, but it is on the absolutely gorgeous eight-minute Cardiff In The Sun that the band really earns its freak flag status. Ciaran’s spooky electronics unwind gradually into a head-spinning mash up of vocoder-treated vocals and dreamy synths before exploding into a vast wall of sound. It’s a perfect tribute to a much maligned city.
It is Gruff who provides the album’s best songs (and that is not meant to denigrate the efforts of his bandmates). The Very Best Of Neil Diamond eclipses its jokey title courtesy of a gorgeous, Eastern-influenced guitar riff and a catchy vocoder refrain. And Moped Eyes is a delight from start to finish, managing to corral funk and glam rock into an intoxicating blend and providing the album’s best one-liner: ‘From middle-aged sophisticates/To stone-aged reprobates’.
After 16 years you would normally expect a band to be putting their feet up and taking it easy. But the Super Furry Animals are not just any band, and the fact that they still love making music and challenging convention should be a cause for national celebration. In Cardiff, of course.