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Super Furry Animals - Phantom Power CD (album) cover

PHANTOM POWER

Super Furry Animals

 

Prog Related

3.28 | 14 ratings

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questionsneverknown
4 stars Creeping deep into the online cellar this week, I was surprised to discover that the Super Furry Animals are lodged away down here, deep in the Prog Archives. Quite surprised, I must say. I don't think of them as very prog, but they're here, and I love the little Cymraeg rascals, so I have to file away a review just to move the dust a bit.

SFA's development from the funky BritPop (or Cool Cymru) of their first album, "Fuzzy Logic," to their later work is astronomical. There is an exploratory spirit to be found on works like "Mwng," "Rings Around the World" and "Phantom Power" that makes them so much more than a groovy pop band. On these releases there is such a fantastic mix of Brian (and Dennis) Wilson symphonics, trance-electronica, brittle acoustics and Edward H. Dafis-inspired heavy Welsh rock.

"Rings" is the album that tends to get all the praise, and is the record usually listed, if they are ever listed at all, on the lists of great albums to own. For my money, though, "Phantom Power" is the true masterpiece. Opening with a sampling of acid folk duo Wendy and Bonnie's "By the Sea," "Hello Sunshine" is as an example of how gorgeous pop can be. What follows is a string of fabulous songs that strike me as utterly flawless (especially with the likes of "Liberty Belle," "Golden Retriever," "The Piccolo Snare" and "Venus and Serena"). This is post-Beatles pop of such pure dreamy quality that I can only prop up the later period of XTC as any kind of rival. The production is immaculate, the lyrics hilarious and surreal (and politically poignant), and the general soundscape texture so lush I sink into its aural shag carpeting.

But is it prog? Ah, there's the rub. Probably the moment that gets the closest is the krautrock/space trip closer, "Slow Life," but sometimes it's sure hard to tell the difference between the new electronic psychedelia and rave dance music. Otherwise, one could point to the rich orchestrations on the two "Father, Father" pieces. For me, though, it might be the album as a whole that could give it some prog qualification. What I'm thinking of here is that rather than feeling like a loose conglomeration of great songs, "Phantom Power" works as an atmospheric whole. Perhaps it's the same we could say of some 10CC or Supertramp's "Crime of the Century," and even, aw heck, The Beatles' "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver."

Alas, "Phantom Power" also seems to be the SFA's peak. "Love Kraft" has some great moments, but drags in a number of places, and I found "Hey Venus!" quite disappointing. As far as I'm concerned, "Phantom Power" stands as one of the true masterpieces of the 2000s. There are few albums of the decade I've probably played as often.

As an album considered on its own terms it's an unquestionable 5 for me. As we are in the land of prog, though, I'll have to bring it down a notch. A masterpiece to be sure, but a prog masterpiece? Hmmm.

questionsneverknown | 4/5 |

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