Super Furry Animals : Phantom Power

Could Super Furry Animals be the most satisfying band recording in the British Isles today? Find out!

The last Super Furry Animals album, ‘Rings Around The World’, was an album designed to broaden their appeal, but in fact it only split the vote. The album was polished for the mainstream, but all the buffing strangled the unpredictability and life from the band. They sounded uncomfortably bloated. Happily, ‘Phantom Power’ is the perfect digestive.

This time long-term producers Gorwel Owen and Tony Doogan are aided by Mario Caldato Jnr, the producer who helped mould the Beastie Boys’ genre-busting sound from ‘Check Your Head’ onwards. With his input the Furries have abandoned the gloss and made their most focussed, energetic pop record since ‘Radiator’.

The sound is raw, psychedelic, eclectic, fuzzy. They’re still trying to reach out to as many palates as they did on ‘Rings…’, but there’s an urgency here previously absent. Most importantly, the songs are amongst the most immediate they’ve nailed. They’re constantly looking for new ways to express themselves as tunefully as possible. In a climate where young bands are happy to reinvent the wheel using the most basic tools over and over again, SFA‘s far-reaching adventurism marks them out as innovative pioneers. Yet the experimentation never gets in the way of a great song, nor a subversive message (see: ‘Liberty Belle”s anti-Americanism).

There must have been some animated discussion when trying to allocate a first single. Sure, ‘Golden Retriever’ lollops alongs with wickedly silly menace, but in this company it stands no taller than any song present. Is it more immediate than the Beach Boy-ish harmonics that power on ‘Venus And Serena’, or the acid-punk stylings of ‘Out Of Control’? The heart-tugging ELO chorus of ‘City Scrape Sky Baby’ and the steeldrum/horn soundclash of the valedictory ‘The Undefeated’ would make stirring singles. In fact, there are fourteen great singles here.

Could Super Furry Animals be the most satisfying band recording in the British Isles today? Certainly, ‘Phantom Power’ shows up Radiohead‘s timid adventures, while giving The Coral something to aim for too. One fears they may never get their true dues, but for a band to be hitting such form six albums into a steady career is astonishing. Some phantastic power, alright.

Ted Kessler