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Super Furry Animals - Phantom Power CD (album) cover


Super Furry Animals


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3.28 | 14 ratings

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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.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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