Barmy Welsh psychedelicists’ poptastic singles collection…
When Super Furry Animals got a deal with Creation Records during the label’s cash-laden days in 1995, there were more than a few sniggers. Initially, they were dismissed as another of Alan McGee’s dodgy post-Oasis signings alongside 3 Colours Red, Hurricane #1 and Heavy Stereo. The first two EPs on Cardiff-based indie label Ankst (represented here by the techno-tinged psychedelia of ‘Blerwytirhwng?’) were promising enough concoctions of oddball psychedelia and tunesmithery but they merely hinted at the bountiful, mind-frotting future of techno-broadcasting tanks, 40ft evil bears, headbanging yetis and celebrity celery-munchers. In an era dominated by Britpop’s musically conservative, cocaine-fuelled triumphalism and Union Jack-waving, the prospects for a five-piece of scruffy, futurist prog rockers being around after the bubble burst, let alone a whole decade on, seemed decidedly remote.
But over time they buried their way into music’s consciousness. Their fourth Top 40 hit of 1996, the Steely Dan-sampling ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ was the most expletive-strewn hit single of all time (that’s over 50 F-words, fuck fans). When the era’s hangover really kicked in, this delirious blur of righteous anger was a far more enduring anthem than most of the songs emanating from the jukebox of the Good Mixer in Camden.
And so the group set off on a remarkable run of hits. No fewer than 17 of the 21 tracks included here made the UK Top 40. Collected together, they make McGee’s decision to snap them up look less like heady self-indulgence and more an act of astonishing foresight at least on a par with signing Oasis. Incredibly, while the Gallagher brothers’ Beatles obsession remains as reliable as their Glasto performance wasn’t, it’s the Furries who’ve mirrored the Fab Four’s sly subversion of the charts far more effectively. Frontman Gruff Rhys summed up the five-piece’s philosophy best when he sang on the joyous glamfest of 1997’s ‘The International Language Of Screaming’, “Every time I look around me everything seems so stationary/It just sends me the impulse to become reactionary”. Mad for it? Bloody bonkers for it more like.
The downside is that ‘Songbook…’ is arranged in an annoyingly non-chronological and indeed nonsense order although, in age of ripping, re-ordering and burning, that can be sorted pretty easily. Anyway, in the first three songs alone there’s a near-perfect musical encapsulation of an E-rush ( ‘Something 4 The Weekend’), a serene, Beach Boys-aping epic about the fear of growing old ( ‘It’s Not The End Of The World?’) and Rhys voicing environmental concerns to an irresistible Caribbean-flavoured tune ( ‘Northern Lites’). Elsewhere, you’ve got punky pop ( ‘Do Or Die’, ‘God! Show Me Magic’), twisted-but-tender laments ( ‘Demons’, ‘If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You’), a white plastic soul record about house prices ( ‘Juxtapozed With U’) and a demented squiggly acid-rock rant linking Albert Einstein’s parents and 24-hour garages ( ‘Hermann Loves Pauline’).
The group’s brash, pioneering spirit is clearly exerting an influence today; you can bet your life that The Futureheads and The Coral own these records, while SFA’s former touring partners Goldie Lookin’ Chain have taken their fun-loving approach right down to base level and into the Top Five. The story’s not over, of course. Super Furry Animals are a band who are always looking to the future but this collection ensures that
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no-one will ever forget their amazing past.