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Super Furry Animals - Phantom Power


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 she’ll 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 of cabbages'.

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.

 

Track listing:
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

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