Guest post. I’ve taken a wee bit of flack in the comments section of recent Significant Albums pieces, one reader finding the omission of SFA records simply inexplicable. Fair enough, I suppose – if I was reading words about 1997, only to discover no mention of Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, I’d be hitting the switch marked “perplexed” as well. For the record – whilst the Super Furry Animals back catalogue isn’t something I’m especially averse to, neither can it be relied upon to blow me away; I must be missing something. Thankfully, Bart Gunn (who – incidentally – almost certainly would have served me at the bar in the Garage venue) was available to expand upon his initial comments, and fill us in on what I’m missing. Enjoy.
A small paean to the under-appreciated Super Furry Animals.
It has always baffled me that a British band of such noted longevity compared to their accused ‘Britpop’ peers, a band with such a well developed back catalogue and an ardent, loyal fan base seems to be so generally undervalued by the British music media. I have followed the great Super Furry Animals since their début album Fuzzy Logic (1996) which yes, was indeed released during the heady days of Britpop and yes, was released on a label (Creation) synonymous with that now rather oddly disparaged period of British guitar music. I could veer off now in argument in favour of Britpop bands and related albums but will instead try and rein myself in and concentrate on the matter at hand. Though I will just briefly note that while the production of many Britpop albums does not seem to hold up well today, I feel this is mainly due to consistently poor CD production from their inception until the late 90’s rather than the fault of specific engineers and producers in the studio en mass. Britpop is also tarnished by being the musical soundtrack to a now reviled period of coked up, ego fuelled, Union Jack waving, Tony Blair ass kissing period of utter excess. I worked behind the bar at The Garage in Highbury & Islington during this era and personally have rather fond memories of the whole shebang. Parklife, Definitely Maybe, Different Class, In It For The Money & Tellin’ Stories are all quintessential Britpop behemoths, but I still think they stand the test of time. How is it that Radiohead seem to escape this vile, offensive media tag, when ‘The Bends’ was released at the scene’s peak? I did say I wouldn’t veer off……
SFA’s first release does sound fairly tinny on playback, I give you that, but as a début album, it’s full of spark, wit and great pop (without the necessity for a regional prefix) hooks. Singles released from this album ‘God! Show Me Magic’, ‘Something 4 The Weekend’ and ‘Hometown Unicorn’ have remained part of the SFA live cannon due to a huge number of fans having stayed with them since day one, as well as the fact that these are rollicking good songs to sing along to at a gig. ‘Gathering Moss’ is the one track on the album that in retrospect gives a clue as to where the Welsh wonders music would wander off to across albums to come. Shimmering Spanish guitar, Gruff displaying his unique, rather splendid vocals and lyrics to match, before beautiful harmonies begin to get cooked up in one of Cian Ciaran’s acid laced clouds. Is that The Shadow’s ‘Apache’ I hear raising its head in the fade out?
Before 1997’s follow up album Radiator came the single SFA have used to finish up the majority, if not all, the gigs they play (I obviously haven’t been to every one so cannot vouch for this as fact) which is ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’. One of my best mates bought this for me without realising I had their first album, simply stating he saw it in the shop and immediately thought of me. Charming. Anyway this song begins with another of Gruff’s pretty vocals accompanied by Beatles-esque harmonies, before seguing into the chorus (the song title) on repeat endlessly. Drums pause then smash back in and mosh-pit mayhem ensues. Again, the original production is lacking on the CD single, but live, this tune is a beast. Cian normally hijacks it after around 5 minutes of relentless chanting and proceeds to make whichever venue’s ceiling is baring witness to the event, shake and crumble to an ear splitting techno mash up. SFA actually evolved from the techno scene and as part of Creation’s lavish ‘whatever goes man, fuck it!’ attitude, allowed SFA to purchase an actual tank! This tank was subsequently painted blue and daubed in SFA logos and became a (not incredibly) mobile sound system. I recall dancing on it at Reading ’96 in fact…
Hermann loves Pauline and Pauline loves Hermann
They made love giving birth to a little German
They called him MC Squared because he raps like no other
An asthma sufferer, like Ernesto Guevara
I repeat, as stated to LGM previously, what an opening verse to a song! ‘Hermann Loves Pauline’ goes to show you can be both informed and witty without having to revert to miserabilism a la the heralded Morrissey.
At this point, with this being my first blog post of any substance, my experienced blogging wife has told me rather matter of factly that if I have written this much already and I am still only on the second album chronologically, then I am in trouble as no one will ever be bothered to read the whole thing……
Hmmnnn, fast forward button to be engaged then as I can’t afford an editor and I’m certainly not letting Mrs Bloggypants tell me what is and isn’t valid in the realm of all things Furry.
The following SFA output….
- Ice Hockey Hair EP (1998) – In SFA loving eyes ‘Smokin’ & ‘Ice Hockey Hair’ could be a re-visitation of the great days of The Beatles’ double A-sides…..’Smokin’ contains the delicious line of ‘Going to manage my time, just like Johan Cruyff’
- Out Spaced (1998) – Fans only fare. B-sides and rarities
- Guerilla (1999) – Ongoing maturing of sound and confidence in equal measure from Fuzzy Logic to Radiator to Guerilla. ‘Turning Tide’, ‘Northern Lites’ & ‘Fire In My Heart’ are the stand out tracks for me. Abundant exotica all round.
- Mwng (2000) – All Welsh language album that didn’t stop me listening to it any less. All the notable SFA traits are still here, weird electronica, great melodies and wonderful hooks too
- Rings Around The World (2000) – As most bands who survive one or two albums do, experimentation with orchestration occurs at some point and SFA do this with their usual aplomb here. Not to say that it becomes overblown, up its own ass Coldplay dirge. Psychedelia is still the most prominent style on display, but this is album is so much more. It is absolutely ravishing from start to finish and their most commercially successful album to date. Must be due to Paul McCartney crunching celery on ‘Receptacle for the Respectable’
- Phantom Power (2003) – Arguably my favourite SFA album. Continues where RATW left off, but is more the morning after to RATW‘s night before. Last track ‘Slow Life’ is probably (though it is fecking hard to commit) my favourite ever SFA track. Captures everything I love about them. Starts off with a drum machine, loops and Cian’s synthesiser jabs into guitar riffs, harmonica and cow bell and then on to Gruff spinning sinister lyrics, then it’s cut reverse cut and on…….simply bloody marvellous
- Songbook: The Singles, Vol. 1 (2004) – Does what it says on the tin and a fantastic collection from start to finish. A great starting point for the uninitiated.
- Love Kraft (2005) – Works superbly well as an album as all tracks are wonderfully sequenced which creates a majestic flow. Balearic feel in parts and I subsequently found out it was recorded in Spain.
- Hey Venus! (2007) – I do really like this album, but I recognise it as the first album that the band never took a step on to pastures new. It does, what the mellower balladry elements of SFA do well, but would not be a recommended starting point for a newbee
- Dark Days/Light Years (2009) – A pick ‘n’ mix of an album and my least rated album I hate to say. 70’s rock, krautrock, synth-pop, MOR and a plethora of other flavours. On the bright side, it’s a great point from which to kick on from to pasture new
Nine original albums depicting a band evolving whilst experimenting and never kowtowing to anyone’s beat but but their own. Despite a cover on now defunct Select magazine (I think), I cannot recall SFA ever having graced Mojo, Uncut or Q. Surely the former two should have dabbled at least once? Shame on you for opting for countless annual regurgitations of Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Young and Zeppelin blurbs
Four years has been far too long since the mighty SFA’s last offering, but at least this provides LGM and countless other doubters plenty of time to revisit their legacy and perhaps offer some revised insight……