Whether crushing their peers in a bloody great tank, wearing monstrous 'Golden Retriever' costumes or mixing sun-dappled psychedelia with galloping Trogg rock, Super Furry Animals have lit up the last couple of decades on their own defiant terms. Now, as Wales are once more confirmed the 38th best nation in the FIFA world football rankings, it seems an apt time to put the Furries' albums into some sort of spurious order.
There's something muscly about 'Hey Venus!', a reaction perhaps to the butterfly bucolia of much of 'Love Kraft'. But they were still doing shivery loveliness four years after the peak of all that on 'Phantom Power' – 'Show Your Hand' would've sat happily alongside 'Liberty Belle' and really should've been the last big Furry hit. Otherwise, we get big frugs on 'Into The Night', 'Neo Consumer' and 'The Gateway Song', but there's a suspicion – in hindsight – that Gruff Rhys was saving the real wonder for Neon Neon's 'Stainless Style'.
SFA go CSN on their seventh studio album, so much more relaxed than the fidgety 'Phantom Power'. That Crosby, Stills and Nash vibe is almost stifling on 'Ohio Heat' but from the splash into a swimming pool that opens first track 'Zoom!' this is an album bleached through by sun and easy feeling. Fender Rhodes gets 'Back On A Roll' swinging, the spirit of the Beta Band lives on through the shuffling funk of 'Lazer Beam' – but for all that bliss you'll yearn for a shot of pure inspiration.
Unless you'd watched a load of Pobol Y Cwm (and if you were a student you undoubtedly had), or you were actually Welsh, 'Mwng' required immediate insertion of a Babel fish. Well, that's if you needed to understand. Instantly explicable were the gorgeous melodies of 'Y Gwyneb Iau' and 'Y Teimlad', and the fantastic snaking guitar riff of 'Dacw Hi' – placing the Super Furries in their spiritual home, the US West Coast. The rest was Gruff clearing his throat. Who listens to lyrics anyway?
Somewhere amid the Neon Neon and Gruff Rhys solo albums, Super Furry Animals managed to release their – up to now, but surely not forever – final set. It's a lithe little beast, with some hepcat funk on 'Moped Eyes', the sound of the souk (for whatever undoubtedly plausible reason) on 'The Very Best Of Neil Diamond' and a Glitter Band romp on the Cian Ciaran-led 'Mt.'. Those are the details. In feel, it's groove- more than song-led with the best the bluesy hippy shake of 'White Socks/Flip Flops', Bunf on the mic.
It's worth bending the rules of inclusion just to get the techno-rock swearathon 'The Man Don't Give A Fuck' in here. 'Out Spaced''s collection of B-sides and lesser-spotted Super Furries songs is nevertheless evidence their creativity couldn't be fettered, leashed or bound, as the creeping-crawling 'Smokin'' from the 'Ice Hockey Hair' EP gets a look-in (although sadly not the epic pop-in-a-nutshell title track) along with the Hawkwind-meets-Jerry Lee Lewis thumper 'Guacamole'. The odds and sods hang together just fine.
Now national treasures whichever side of the border you were from, Super Furry Animals followed up non-album brainstorm 'Ice Hockey Hair' with the hyper-confident 'Guerrilla'. Lead single 'Northern Lites' was a typically distorted version of pop normality with calypso horns and steel drums playing gleefully around a melody that couldn't keep still, while 'Do Or Die' tested how many surf thrills you could fit into two lightspeed minutes. Quite a lot, actually. The quality control's been tighter, but the cuddliness of 'Guerrilla' – take 'Fire In My Heart', 'Chewing Chewing Gum' – goes a long way.
From the heads-down boogie of 'God! Show Me Magic' to the grinding doo-wop of 'For Now And Ever', 'Fuzzy Logic' announced a band that didn't give a flying about the Britpop prevailing wind, preferring to exploit the glam rock of their toddlerhood and pay lengthy tribute to weed-shifting folk hero Howard Marks. They could be a bit wacky – see every bit of 'Something For The Weekend' that wasn't the spine-tingling chorus – but 'Mario Man' is dreamy sugar-pop and 'Bad Behaviour' the kind of Beach Boys-soaked gonzo rock that would continue to pop up from one album to the next, always welcome.
KILLER opening pair – 'Hello Sunshine' and 'Liberty Belle' – sets scene for transcendent harmony and bananas concepts from the Cardiffian Beach Boys as they tackle the sluggish passage of time on 'Slow Life' and 'Bleed Forever', and learn valuable life lessons from pet tortoises Venus And Serena on – yeah – 'Venus & Serena'. If ever the Furries were a valid (if slightly skewed) mainstream proposition it was on this hook-stuffed journey. Obviously they were never a valid mainstream proposition. Those 25 singles without a Top 10 hit is some obstinate return though.
The working title 'Text Messaging Is Destroying The Pub Quiz As We Know It' might have made a nice call to arms that would've saved us from the tawdry culture we're left with, but this pun'll have to do. Gruff and the boys' first proper major label album is as plush as it should be – an epic for Epic – and boasts a startling three-song whammy in '(Drawing) Rings Around The World', 'It's Not The End Of The World?' and 'Receptacle For The Respectable' that convinces you you've chanced on the greatest album ever recorded. Nearly.
It's no snub to the next decade's glorious efforts to say 'Radiator' is SFA's best; it's just that they achieved near-perfection so damned early. The blurred focus of 'Fuzzy Logic' was sharpened quicksmart with little pop gems in 'Demons' and the loping 'Play It Cool', and the warmest guitar solo this side of 'Let It Be' on 'Bass Turned To D.E.A.D.'. Plenty of time too to fuck with our heads on 'Chupacabras' and 'Hermann Loves Pauline' and the crazed mission statement of 'The International Language Of Screaming', but it's all capped by tearjerking closer 'Mountain People'. Of course that goes techno-berserk too.