Super Furry Animals

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Fuzzy Logic, 6.5/10
Radiator, 5.5/10
Out Spaced , 4/10
Guerrilla , 5/10
Mwng , 6/10
Rings Around The World , 5.5/10
Phantom Power (2003), 6.5/10
Love Kraft (2005), 5.5/10
Gruff Rhys: Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (2005), 4/10
Gruff Rhys: Candylion (2007), 5/10
Hey Venus (2007), 5.5/10
Dark Days/Light Years (2009), 5/10
Gruff Rhys: Hotel Shampoo (2011), 5.5/10
Gruff Rhys: Terror of Cosmic Loneliness (2012), 4/10

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I Super Furry Animals sono un quintetto del Wales che fa parte della corrente piu` retro` del Brit-pop, ma si pone anche fra i revivalisti piu` originali, nel solco di They Might Be Giants piu` che di Oasis.

Fin dall'EP Llanfairpwllgwyngyll (Ankst, 1995), la loro specialita` e` il glam-rock degli anni '70, arrangiato con dovizia di strumenti, ma fedele alle sceneggiate dell'epoca. Il singolo God Show Me Magic fonde il boogie piu` infantile dei New York Dolls con il piglio piu` clownesco di David Bowie.

L'album Fuzzy Logic (Creation, 1996) e` un continuo esercizio di necrofilia d'alta classe. L'arrangiamento utilizza balalaika, violino, viola, violoncello, tromba, sassofono, flauto, trombone, oltre alle tastiere e agli strumenti rock. Fuzzy Birds e` una ballad cantata nel registro decadente di Ziggy e arrangiata nel modo piu` kitsch (comprese una fanfara di trombe e una marcetta di flauto). La filastrocca scipita di Frisbee, condotta da un riff imbarazzante di chitarra, esce direttamente da un teatrino di varieta`. Ma l'apice di comicita` parodistica viene raggiunto in Bad Behavior, un museo delle cere in cui si incontrano il registro agonizzante di Mick Jagger, le schitarrate isteriche dei Sex Pistols, un sintetizzatore comico alla Todd Rundgren e una coda/jam/baccanale interminabileo alla Hawkwind. Quando il gruppo abbandona le pose e si concentra soltanto sulla melodia, riesce persino piu` grottesco, come un Frank Zappa che faccia l'imitazione dei Beatles, come nelle armonie vocali e nel violoncello di Hometown Unicorn, o nella ballad "mediterranea" di Gathering Moss, che sconfina in un valzerone. L'elaborato pop dei Jellyfish Kiss (gruppo neo-pop che aveva molto da insegnare al Brit-pop) trionfa in Something For The Weekend, con tremila echi di Beatles, Hollies e Kinks. Il cantante Gruff Rhys compie miracoli di trasformismo in questa selva di riferimenti.
Anche quando la combinazione non funziona (un'orrenda mutazione della All The Young Dudes dei Mott The Hoople si affaccia in If You Don't Want Me To Destroy You e l'intera seconda parte serve soltanto a giustificare il formato album invece che EP), il gruppo e` molto meno noioso della media dei britannici.

Annunciato dai singoli Herman e International Language Of Screaming, Radiator (Creation, 1997) e` una fotocopia sbiadita del precedente. Ancora una volta dominano le inflessioni decadenti e si sprecano le citazioni per l'era del beat. E ancora una volta gran parte del disco e` spazzatura di riempimento, una brutta abitudine dei complessi britannici. Alla fine rimane l'impressione di un gruppo epigonico, per di piu` gia` stanco dopo appena due secondi di carriera. Jellyfish di provincia. I singoli sono: Hermann Loves Pauline, The International Language of Screaming, Play it Cool, Demons, seguiti l'anno dopo da Ice Hockey Hair.

For those who can digest more of this soup, Out Spaced (Creation, 1998) is a collection of rarities.

Guerrilla (Flydaddy, 1999) is a superb, albeit involuntary, parody of their own sound, so refined to sound artificial. Songs such as Northern Lites and Do or Die are perfect summaries of everything they have done so far. Fire In My Heart is cosmic pop.

Mwng (Flydaddy, 2000), sung in Welsh, was recorded live in studio. This "lo-fi" version of the band is quite effective in delivering the deranged epos of Dygioni and Sarn Helen, and Gruff Rhys has the time of his life singing them.

The double disc Rings Around The World (Epic, 2001), their greatest commercial achievement, avails itself of a sleek, lush production that confuses the issue of what the music is all about. It was released in Britain with great fanfare. Remove the hype, and all is left is the usual dose of pop refrains and Pet Sounds-style arrangements (notably the power riffs and angelic harmonies of Rings Around The World) plus a few diligent imitations of Radiohead (the whispered chamber lied Alternative View From Vulcan Street, the slow, hypnotic and sensual instrumental A Touch Sensitive). The experiments are amateurish at best, like the way Receptacle for the Respectable mutates multiple times, from Mexican street fanfare to pummeling/growling death-metal, ot the way the lengthy CSN&YNo Sympathy turns into glitch music. All in all, perhaps the album strikes a chord when Juxtaposed With U merges easy-listening soundtracks of the 1960s and orchestral disco of the 1970s, one of its lightest moments. Ditto for Run Christian Run, a sleepy hybrid of Morricone-style Western-movie elegy and Eagles-style country shuffle. The album's intentions are good, but it has too much fluff, including to the yawn-inducing lounge ballad It's Not The End of the World and the orchestral ballad Presidential Suite. It sounds like the album of musicians that try desperately to sound interesting. In fact, it was one of their least interesting albums.

Phantom Power (XL, 2003) finds a better balance than its predecessor between light, breezy Brit-pop and lush, ambitious arrangements. For a band that spent its career to imitate Pet Sounds, it is no small achievement to have finally produced an album that sounds like the Beach Boys transported to the digital age. The High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan plays Brian Wilson here (all the string sections are arranged by him) and no wonder that so many songs evoke the Beach Boys if not Simon & Garfunkel or Crosby Stills & Nash, from the six-minute soft vocal carousel of Piccolo Snare to the psychedelic lullaby Cityscape Skybaby to Venus and Serena. But the most captivating numbers are probably the ones that violate the norm: the anthemic Liberty Belle (with a refrain reminiscent of Bob Dylan's Like A Rollingstone), the swinging Golden Retriever (with boogie guitar and gospel vocals), the pounding rave-up of Out Of Control. On the other hand the languid singalong Hello Sunshine, the bossanova-rock of Valet Parking, the reggae shuffle The Undefeated, and the lazy country-rock ballad Sex War And Robots embody the congenital limitations of the Super Furry Animals, but, luckily, here they are the exception and not the rule. Enhanced with a couple of moody experiments (notably the seven-minute ambient-techno closer Slow Life) and a discrete use of dance beats and electronic sounds throughout, this album fulfills whatever ambitions was hidden behind the mess of Rings Around The World.

The double-disc Phantom Phorce (Sony, 2004) is a remix album. Songbook (XL, 2005) collects the singles.

The sci-fi concept Love Kraft (Rough Trade, 2005), featuring string arrangements by Sean O'Hagan (of High Llamas) and a 100-unit Catalan choir, boasts the bold (for them) choral overture of Zoom and the bold (for them) arrangements of Laser Beam. But Walk You Home and Cabin Fever mix the same ingredients to obtain something that is not all that different from lounge music.

Gruff Rhys debuted solo with the stripped-down Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (2005), a collection of generic power-pop muzak sung in Welsh, followed by Candylion (2007), a more regular collection of eerily-arranged psychedelic-pop songs in the old style of Super Furry Animals (Candylion, reminiscent of Smokey Robinson's Tracks of My Tears, the ambient pop of Lonesome Words, the 14-minute Bob Dylan-esque fresco Skylon).

In the meantime, keyboardist Cian Ciaran launched Acid Casuals, that debuted with Omni (2006), and drummer Dafydd Ieuan formed the Peth with actor Rhys Ifans (an original member of Super Funny Animals).

If Love Kraft had shown a modest inclination towards a more "progressive" approach, the Super Furry Animals returned to concise pop immediacy on Hey Venus (2007), an album that lazingly surveys the standards of the catchy ditty (from Merseybeat to bubblegum to punk-pop) and occasionally delivers a song that may actually stick for more than one day (Show Your Hand and Into The Night).

Stainless Style (2008), credited to Neon Neon, was a collaboration between Gruff Rhys and USA dj Boom Bip intended as a concept album about John DeLorean, a futuristic designer of cars, and crafted as a tribute to the music of the 1980s.

Dark Days/Light Years (Rough Trade, 2009) contains the eight-minute exotic-psychedelic pastiche Cardfiff in the Sun but is generally more ebullient than usual, letting the rockers prevail over the ballads. Hence the prog-rock fantasia Crazy Naked Girls, that mutates from funk-soul a` la Prince to pop-metal a` la Guns N' Roses, the roaring pounding Inconvenience, that decays into an old-fashioned space-rock jam, the cool boogie Mt, etc. The band is still all over the spectrum, from the pop-soul easy-listening muzak White Socks Flip Flops, to the polyrhythmic and dissonant The Very Best Of Neil Diamond. The ten-minute Pric, that blends Neu-esque motorik rhythm and a ghostly cacophonous instrumental coda, is as fanciful as the Beatles' Revolution. The high-brow and pompous tone of the album can use the lively march-like singalong Inaugural Trams, probably the one and only standout. The vocal harmonies a` la Beach Boys and CSN&Y are largely a memory of the past, but it's not clear what asset has replaced them.

Gruff Rhys mocked the mellow pop music of the 1960s on Hotel Shampoo (2011) and composed the amateurish soundtrack Terror of Cosmic Loneliness (2012).

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