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5 stars Phantom Power (also an album title by Rick Wakeman) is another classic album from Super Furry Animals. This album manages to show off their continuing evolution in sound. This album has some incredible tunes and proves this band to be unstopable. This album has an even stronger use of symphonic elements and drives away from the early psyhadelic roots. This is an album i would highly recommend to Moody Blues fans as the combination of art rock, prog and symphonic/orchestral work here is at its best.

This album kicks off with a classic and defining SFA tune, "Hello Sunshine". This is a powerful acoustic tune driven by its heavy use of Moody Blues style composition. This track became a slightly comical classic as it is a really beautiful and honest acoustic piece, yet in true SFA style has purposely half assed lyrics about being a minger and being lazy. This is a lovely sing along and addictive track. An upbeat and lively moment on this album is follow up track, "Libery Belle", which has some great, yet subtle, guitar and piano work. "Golden Retriever" is the only real return to psychadelia. This is a really good short rocker, nothing really proggy but a very enjoyable tune.

The orchestral work is pushed forward on this album and is an even greater force than on the previous album. This is truely shown off on tracks like "Sex, War and Robots", and the very Moody Blues like, "Father, Father" interludes. The work on this album concentrates less on the cliche SFA styles and goes out for some bold and confident symphonic style acoustic compositions.

"Out of Control" is a very special track and one of my faves of their whole career. This is a really gritty rocker with some heavy distortion and fantastic riffing that seems a bit out there even for a band like this. SFA have always been unpredicatable and up for anything. "Cityscape Skybaby" and "Venus & Serena" are some amazing slow building tracks that are beautiful, vivid and powerful and are truely standout points of the album.

The closing track is a real odd one out yet amazing SFA track and a live favourite. This is a very confusing, unpredictable long tune that has some heavy experimental work that hasn't been this strong since their 1999 album, "Guerilla". A great album closer although it doesn't really relate to anything else on the album. It's a great track that even made it onto their "Songbook" collection album.

"Phantom Power" is a remarkably good album. SFA continue to evolve and this is where they pushed their art rock act to a trademark style. This album is original and provides some great acoustic works and a superb use of orchestral elements. Highly recommended, but perhaps not as a starting point.

Report this review (#43555)
Posted Saturday, August 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars These guys aren't really prog (they're more like college indie), but they are really fun to listen to. Judging from their music and pictures and interviews I've seen, I'm guessing they put on a cool live show.

The first time I heard these guys was the song "Northern Lites" on a college radio station, which I liked so much I bought their Guerilla CD. In fact, according to my Media Player, "Northern Lites" is one of the ten most-played songs in my favorites list. Except for the Guerilla album, the only place I've ever heard these guys was on college radio, where "Shoot Doris Day" and "Ice Hockey Hair" get fairly decent rotation, so when I saw "Phantom Power" at least I had an idea what I was getting in for.

If you think of these guys as a somewhat irreverent and mildly socially conscious indie band, you won't be disappointed. If you're expecting a pompous traditional progressive, well, you apparently didn't really grasp the name of the band.

"Phantom Power" is a very comfortable album to listen to, which sometimes is just the right prescription after a long, hard day. The album starts off with the upliftingly titled "Hello Sunshine", but some rather odd lyrics ("You're not so innocent; you're a disgrace to your country. If you fled a million miles, I'd chase you for a day"). Well, okay. It's a rather catchy pop tune and singer Gruff Rhys has a pleasant enough voice. This song, and the album in general, sports a fair amount of subtle percussion that serves to make the music sound a bit more busy than it really is.

"Liberty Belle" is a slow, folksy song that upon closer examination appears to actually be a bit of a condemnation of, well, you should be able to figure it out: "You know you're digging to hell, drowning in your oil wells. As the ashes fly from New York City, past the grimy clouds above New Jersey; past the kids who like to smoke like chimneys, and to the sky". Nothing personal, I'm sure.

"Golden Retriever" is a sort of bluesy tune with a driving beat that sounds maddeningly familiar (maybe you can figure out where they lifted it - I tried but finally gave up). The words tell of some chick who the author apparently isn't too fond of.

You have to like a song titled "Sex, War, and Robots". This one starts off with a really slow what I think is a steel guitar and a sort of Welsh country and western song. I couldn't really figure out where the robot fit in.

The earlier comment about the band's social consciousness comes from "Piccolo Snare", which is actually an anti-war song. The sound is an amazingly accurate parroting of some of the late 60's earthy hippie genre, with plenty of harmonizing, soft keyboards, and spacey percussion.

"Venus and Serena" is a short instrumental, having something I suppose to do with the American tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Maybe the guys in the band have a thing going. Who knows. This is followed by the first of two songs entitled "Father Father", which sound more like random jamming combined with instrument tuning and some nonsense lyrics thrown in to make them sound more like early R.E.M. ("west of the fields, west of the fields", meh).

"Out of Control" is the pissed off song. Lots of stuff about Ninjah jihads and wasting oil, stuff like that. Nice beat and guitars, but it's hard to picture guys getting really angry about gas-guzzling xenophobic soccer moms on anti-abortion rampages when the singer is wearing a hair suit that looks like a wet sheepdog. It's a funny visual though - let me ponder that one for a moment.

.. .. ..

Okay, I'm done. On to "Cityscape Skybaby", a somber portrait of some peasant woman who has apparently knocked off a judge and her boss. Kind of a downer on an otherwise pretty peppy album.

After another dose of "Father Father" meandering, the band is into "Valet Parking", a song about driving. The band gives a shout-out to Kraftwerk's 'Authbahn' here, but the similarities end with the song's topic. This is a soft staccato beat and doo-whop backing vocals singing the praises of wind in the hair and the seduction of the winding road. Are there really many long winding roads in Wales? I'm not sure.

"The Unforgiven" has the same kind of horn backing that made "Northern Lites" so catchy, but they are much more subdued here. This is a 'rebel without a clue' protest song, angry about something and with David-and-Goliath references, but I really don't get the impression these guys know exactly what they're pissed off about, and they don't really seem to be too concerned about getting all that worked up. Another round barkeep!

The album ends with "Slow Life", and seven minute mix of electronica, string treatments, and whispy vocals rambling about mass destruction and terrorists and starvation and crap like that. Probably the result of watching too much prime-time world news. Oh yeah, and endless repetition of the line "rocks are slow life". Maybe some kind of trigger phrase for a cell group somewhere, who knows.

All told this is a pretty engaging album. I listened to it four or five times straight through when I bought it, just turned down the lights and kicked back in my lounge chair. At times these guys remind me a lot of Elvis Costello, with his knack for understated but biting lyrics and mellow, creative sounds. In fact, it's highly unlikely these guys managed to write all these songs without at least subconsciously thinking about Costello songs at least a few times. Joe Jackson also comes to mind, especially some of his earliest stuff ("I'm the Man", 'Jumping Jive' especially). This is a well-produced album that flows well from one song to the next, and the listener is never in danger of either getting bored, or getting particularly worked up either. Again, this isn't prog music any more than say - Primus, but it is similar in it's entertainment value and creativity. I don't think anyone who listens to modern art or RIO music would object to having this in their collection, so three stars is the right place to rate this.


Report this review (#75406)
Posted Tuesday, April 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars 2.5 stars really!!

These crazy Welshman never seem to hit rightb on the button, do they? After the "minimalistically" obtuse Mwng and its Spartan looks, SFA actually goes overboard on the other side as if the pendulum was actually increasing its momentum. As opposed to the no-artwork of its predecessor Phantom Power has an incredibly lush and rich presentation with a clever cut out slipcase, a triple fold digipack and its fully decorated boolet, the whole thing being axed on cartoons donkey characters on volcanic background. Quite a pleasure for the eyes, I must say and a real change from Mwong.

Does it mean that the music is more accessible (I mean less obtuse), though? Hard to answer positively, but I personally think so. What strikes most is a much better production: the mud from the tape machines has taken away and the plastic sheets from the mikes. But the music is certainly not progressive or even prog: SFA is more like a clever irrenverencious indie band that takes their influences from a bit all over the 70's but also the early 80's pop. The result is somewhere Radiohead and REM one side and Costello- Weller pop on the other side. Occasional good drumming is one of the plusses, but really not that much more. Not even the weird closer is of much interest for the proghead, it appears as third rate Zappa studio doodlings with Cabaret Voltaire. Best forgotten!!!

Phantom River is certainly more of a pop album than their previous one, with jumpy tracks, some clever and good instrumentation, but in no way is this album any prog or even psych for that matter. Progheads, as much as SFA might be a pleasant group, do not come to this album looking for anything remotely prog.

Report this review (#88013)
Posted Wednesday, August 23, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars 3.5 stars

Their most "lush" album, in some ways weaker than its predecessor but also in some ways stronger. I wouldn't really want to choose a favourite between them though. Again there's no prog here but for a few exceptions of fleeting moments which briefly (and rather vaguely) remind of some early 70's groups. But again, who cares? This album still has some excellent moments - particularly "Sex, War and Robots", "The Piccolo Snare", "Slow Life" and the two "Father Father" tracks. There are some unfortunately less-than-good tracks as well, such as "Valet Parking" and the near-damn tuneless "The Undefeated", which is kind of fun but that's it. Also you could argue the gun shots at the end make for an "interesting listen", but that's not the case really.

I saw this band life when they were touring for this album and it really hightened my appreciation for "Slow Life" (as well as some of the other songs here). "Slow Life" is an SFA tour-de-force and is probably the best track they ever recorded. It has a lovely dreamy feel to it and is totally epic even if it is only 7 minutes long (a short length of time for us progheads!!). It even reminds of "Alternate Route" from the previous album and it's the same case here - while not prog, this album is worth getting just for that song. And since the other songs are mostly good as well I come to the same conclusion; why not? This along with their others makes for a fun and rather diverse listen and they do a great live show, as I'd later re-discover when they toured for their next album "Love Kraft".

Best track: Slow Life

Report this review (#130266)
Posted Wednesday, July 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#239913)
Posted Friday, September 18, 2009 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Sofistocated

Super Furry Animals sixth album finds them stripping things back significantly, and going for an album of sophisticated pop songs. While they could hardly be accused of copying 10CC, the comparison with the work of that band is highly relevant. The songs here are equally diverse, they are firmly rooted in pop, yet they are loaded with clever minutiae and attention to detail. On the surface, each track is instantly accessible, but further listens reveal unnoticed layers, complementary effects, and gifted instrumentation.

Take "The piccolo snare" for example. The initial impression is one of a simple Simon and Garfunkel like soft folk number, but dig a little deeper and we find a myriad of underlying detail.

All that said, there is little if any true prog as such here. Despite the aforementioned sophistication, the songs are pop songs, no matter how good they are. Occasionally the band up the tempo and indulge in some heavy rock. "Out of control", the lyrics of which are the source of the album title, is the best example of this, the whole song racing through in well under three minutes.

Only the final track, the 7 minute "Slow life", offers anything challenging. The structure here is slightly more complex although the basic repeating theme remains straightforward.

Ironically in view of the move back to more overt pop sounds, there is no killer single to be found on the album. For all their catchy hooks and superficiality simple melodies, the songs tend to work better as a team. Heard on that basis, this is an enjoyable if unremarkable album.

Report this review (#247760)
Posted Monday, November 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars The super furry extravaganza is striking again.

Less fantasy though but their melodic pop oriented song writing is very strong in this album. "Phantom Power" is actually made of quite catchy and very melodic songs which are rather enjoyable to listen to.

Again, the feel is late sixties / early seventies oriented. The Beatles thanks to the melodies, the early Floyd during the psychedelic "Piccolo Snare" . It is one of my fave and one of the most "complex" song available. It is the second longest song from this album and is less accessible than the rest , but it works remarkably well. Some sort of a change after three very good pop songs and one average blues / rocker ("Golden Retriever").

Some let down tracks with both "Father Father - 1 & 2)", but the damage is not too painful since they only last for three minutes altogether. I can add that "Valet Parking" is quite chaotic and the reggae oriented "The Undefeated" is not my cup of tea. Was it to sound even more as "10CC"? I don't know, but this is not matching the model.

The long closing "Slow Life" has some Roxy feel ("Manifesto") during the intro are is quite enjoyable as well. A fine balance with the less catchy songs sitting before. Some electronic beats (but not too much), a melancholic vocal part and some good keys are the components.

"Phantom Power" is a good pop rock album. Three stars.

Report this review (#252919)
Posted Thursday, November 26, 2009 | Review Permalink

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