Review: Jack Foley
IT PROBABLY won't surprise you to read that the Super Furry Animals'
latest album, Phantom Power, is a strange affair; yet the
reason for it might.
While the sunshine melodies of old remain largely intact, particularly
during the wonderfully feelgood Valet Parking (which seems
made for a Southern Californian coastal drive - it's actually
about a trip from Cardiff!), the lyrics have become a little darker,
dealing with subjects such as disease, death and Holy War in a
bid to echo the feelings of the world as it stands today.
Phantom Power is the Super Furry's sixth studio album
and, possibly, their most accomplished - grown up, yet childish
all at the same time.
Gruff Rhys' lyrical style remains as distinctive, and as powerful
as ever, yet it also contains a retro-feel, almost as though the
band are trying to get back to the sun-drenched sound of the psychedelic
Sixties and Seventies.
And it works, too, keeping the tracks easy to listen to, rather
than becoming lost amid the weight and worthiness of the lyrics.
Take Bleed Forever, for example, a aong about the radiation
that descended all over North Wales after Chernobyl, and the general
proliferation of nuclear power stations in the area - while the
lyrics reverberate with a haunting, poignant power, the record
itself retains a beauty borne out of Rhys' melancholic vocal style.
There are also rockier moments than usual, as in the single,
Golden Retriever (about a woman who will 'lead you blindly
down every dark alley/then shell bleed you dry'), or the
Iron Maiden 'homage', Out of Control, which really feels
like a Seventies rock out.
Yet the lyrics, once again, are supposed to reflect a world in
which everything is 'out of control' and is described by Rhys,
himself, as 'an over-dramatic theme to a current affairs programme'.
The wonderfully named, Cityscape Skybaby, is another example
of a totally offbeat style of songwriting, conceived after a trip
to Colombia in 1997, during which the band was invited to a Marxist
village to take part in a five-day fiesta to celebrate the 60th
anniversary of the murder of a local landowner.
Yet far from keeping it in context, the song moves the theme
to a Russian pre-Revolutionary setting, and sounds like a classic
ELO number, complete with wacky lyrics such as 'she came in smelling
It's little wonder to hear Rhys singing 'father, father, I'm
a walking disaster' for the track, Father Father, even
though the melodies, themselves, feel lifted straight out of a
Sixties-set diner, at the time of Happy Days.
Far from being a walking disaster, though, Rhys continues to
reveal himself to be a singer/songwriter of genuine worth, and
one always worth listening to.
Phantom Power, like its name suggests, possesses a haunting
quality that stays with you long after the final track has parted.
1. Hello Sunshine
2. Liberty Belle
3. Golden Retriever
4. Sex, War and Robots
5. The Piccolo Snare
6. Venus and Serena
7. Father Father # 1
8. Bleed Forever
9. Out Of Control
10. Cityscape Skybaby
11. Father Father # 2
12. Valet Parking
13. The Undefeated
14. Slow Life