Artist: Super Furry Animals
Album: Dark Days/Light Years
Label: Rough Trade
Once upon a time the SFA were the coolest pop band around. And I was a faithful fan. In my latest hit parade of best ever gigs, they have two entries in the top ten. My first was around ’98 when they toured Radiator. Closing with 'Mountain People', with what seemed like twenty minutes plus finale of hardcore techno, the audience at a pop concert suddenly found themselves at a rave. They were that good. The point I wish to make is the SFA were never (that most cardinal sin in pop) boring. Even leaving Creation for Sony did not stem their creativity. In fact many would agree their first release on a major label Rings Around the World is their masterpiece. I remain undecided as to which is their best LP though clearly the song writing here is world class. But crucially, I was to realise upon its release, that all the production value changes that inevitably (I am not sure why it has to be inevitable) are a consequence of joining a major, were not to ruin my favourite band. That is not to say their sound did not change. It was now more polished, which is always dangerous especially when considering their influences include the likes of ELO. Their sound could, one feared, go horribly wrong. In pop there is such a fine line… But the songs on RATW blossomed with the cleaner & shiner sound. 'Run! Christian, Run!' is epic without being bombastic.
Forward several years and LPs later and the SFA returned to an indie, the now legendary Rough Trade. And I am still not over the disappointment. Hey Venus! is not a bad record, it’s average and simply just nice. It’s the sound of band not losing it, just going through the motions. Though I must add most pop/rock records released these last few years have failed to turn me on. But the SFA letting me down like this was deflating. My least enjoyable gig was promoting Hey Venus!, oh and without Pete Fowler, the record sleeve was shite too (designed by Keiichi Tanaami). Expectations were therefore not as high as they used to be with the imminent arrival of a new SFA record.
Dark Days/Light Years arrived two weeks ago to coincide with a freakishly beautiful spring sunny week in London. Opener 'Crazy Naked Girls' announces the band have regained their collective mojo. It’s an ecstatic rock/blues freak-out that shows they can really play. There is some brilliant work here between Dafydd’s drums and Bunf’s guitar effects. 'Moped Eyes' is also based on a groove. This time it’s the interplay between Guto’s bass and a plastic soul vocal from Gruff that dominate. 'Inaugural Trams', the lead single is a brilliant pop piece and example of why there is much to love in the work of the SFA. This leads into 'Inconvenience', which is reminiscent of rockers like 'Night Vision' from Guerrilla. The song is a rant from Gruff that include a reminder that there is still ‘Tory scum’ out there. Easy to forget when Labour is trying so hard to be the villains of our political plays. Back to the record: 'Cardiff In The Sun' will finish off the A side when the black plastic is released in April. Dreamy, melodic, widescreen and psychedelic this is an expansive piece which completes the first side well.
'The Very Best Of Neil Diamond' uses a big moody bass line to build a typical SFA track. This continues the rock vibe to the album and cements the difference from Hey Venus! and the whole country pop flavour. 'Helium Hearts' is disposable pop but that’s not such a bad thing. 'White Socks/Flip Flops' uses Bunf on vocals. It’s a good song with a sunny soft rock vibe but the vocals leave it sounding ordinary. I always prefer Gruff on vocals. Even if distorted in the studio as it so often is. Gruff just has a great ‘pop’ voice. As illustrated on the next couple of numbers, but especially on 'Pric'. In fact the band unites on this final track to make it their most rewarding song in years. Building on a bass heavy groove we hear the best use of Cian’s electronic wizardry since the days of 'Slow Life'. This is a true SFA pastiche. Why they do not bring their techno influences to the fore more often is a mystery to me.
We are left with a fairly good record. Although Fowler is back on board as a collaborator with Tanaami the art work still does nothing for me. In the main I reckon most fans will be happy and most passers-by will think it’s not too bad. For me it will perhaps be the one of the better records of the year so far but it’s not as good as Merriweather Post Pavillion, released this year by another collective of animals residing across the pond. Dark Days/Light Years does give further evidence though to my belief that the Super Furry Animals are the best pop band of the last 20 years.
Download: Super Furry Animals - The Very Best of Neil Diamond
Super Furry Animals – Dark Days/Light Years
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