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Delirious With Weird

Tuesday, July 22, 2003  
This is not a record review.

Super Furry Animals
Phantom Power I can't imagine they deliberately stole this album title from The Tragically Hip, did they?

Imagine my surprise when I first put on Phantom Power last night and discovered it to be a country record. Wow. Gruff and co. socking it to Dubya with the music of his own home town, two or three tracks laden with pedal steel and and some forlorn strings poking through on occasion too. Very strange.

I slipped off Rings Around The World like an ant off frictionless glass, its expensive and slick production screaming 'maturity!' and 'longevity!' at me until I couldn't hold on anymore and had to let go. Nonplussed by Fuzzy Logic, in love with Radiator and Guerilla, keen on Outspaced and (sinfully, I know) never really arsed to listen to Mwng much (not because it's in Welsh but because it's got no techno). Where's the glam techno and frivolous pop stomp on Rings Around The World? All these mature meanderings about politics, these too-accomplished descents into electronic wibble, these ballads and suites- they're no fun, are they? And previously that's what SFA have been about. The title track managed it, just about, and "It's Not the End of the World" was sweetly melancholic enough, but- fuck, no, 'enough' is never enough; I mean is it? Come on.

The first side of Phantom Power (and at this point I've only listened to it two and a half times so these are just impressions rather than properly formed opinions) starts slow and has the country/ballady type tunes to wade through. "Hello Sunshine" has a Beatles title, some wistfully sampled female vocals to start (can't remember who they are as I left the sleeve at home), and is a sweet, winsome pop song with just a touch of Nashville. "Sex, War and Robots" is proper country though, lavished with pedal steel (I still wince slightly whenever I hear that particular instrument, though I'm getting better) and Tennesse sunsets. "Golden Retriever" is a relievingly ridiculous wiggle, short and to-the-pointless. But then we get "The Piccolo Snare" which begins as a woozy psychedelic ballad before finding something akin to a wicked groove for a minute or two, and is perhaps the first really top moment of the record.

Much of the rest of it is pretty 'meh' in a good way, like they're just doing what they do ("Venus & Serena" may not be a tune remarkable in any way but it's named after the tennis-dominating sisters and that rocks!), but the highpoints are great. "Out of Control" is a sinister Ziggy lurch with properly odd Super Furries lyrics and a riff you're sure they've filched off someone else, and it runs straight into "Cityscrape Skybaby" which is just awesome, and exactly what I want SFA to be doing at this point in their career. It'll almost certainly find it's way onto numerous compilations in the latter half of this year, as will closing track "Slow Life", which is not particularly slow but which does symbioses (is that a word?- it is now) techno better than anything else they've done before to my mind, with the possible exception of "Some Things Come from Nothing" off Guerilla.

Elsewhere there are a couple of short, pretty instrumentals and an armful of SFA-by-numbers pop songs. It's a shame to say it, but Phantom Power feels very much like business as usual for the Welsh wizards, as if they've made just another album, which is a shame, I guess, but far from a travesty. Gruff whispers more than I'd like, there isn't quite enough lysergic madness and stomping odd-pop, and the 'phantom' addressed is presumably US foreign policy and the people who come up with and support it. Still one of the most notable alternative pop bands in Britain, just not quite as magnificently unpredictable as they once were.

7/22/2003 10:47:00 am


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Nick Southall is Contributing Editor at Stylus Magazine and occasionally writes for various other places on and offline. You can contact him by emailing auspiciousfishNO@SPAMgmail.com

All material © Nick Southall, 2003/2004/2005