We’re not a political band. We’re a human band. When I was growing up — well, not when I was growing up, but ten years ago — we were all pretty taken away by the whole rave scene. That turned into a sort of political movement and I think it changed a lot of people’s outlook on life, but it didn’t really change anything. Of course, that’s not a reason for us not to talk about those things. I mean, if you take the mass media as truth, well, you’ll be pretty disillusioned for starters. It’s nice, I think, to hear somebody who actually agrees with what you think, and it gives you a little hope in the world. [Guto of the Super Furry Animals]
I have to confess: I’ve never really ‘got’ the Super Furry Animals. I recognise that they are a band who manage to keep their feet cannily in every camp they’ve put their minds to: latter day prog rock, Welsh language rock, glitch punk, indie…they’ve done it all. Hwoever, I just cannot understand the huge reverence they have been held in not only by JP (for whom they did five sessions, including a live one from Maida Vale in the month that he died) but also the music press, who seem to have lauded every album they’ve ever made, even if they have not been rewarded with concomitant sales. Oh well, I was the one who got fried alive (gently) in these pages and on the Yahoo Peel group for confessing a strong dislike for Melt Banana, so what do I know?
As far as the Festive Fifty is concerned, they crept into the chart with God! Show Me Magic (FF 1996 #49), which is a short, fuzzbox dominated thrash backed by their trademark squalling electronics. a re-recording of the only English-language track on Moog Droog, on Ankst Records. This led to a signing to Creation Records: boss Alan McGee famously dropped a clanger by asking them if they could sing in English in the future when they already were…he couldn’t understand their strong accents.
Their first top 40 hit, this presaged the album Fuzzy Logic, which picked up sales when Something 4 The Weekend was pulled as another single and made number 18 in the UK charts.
One of their finest moments, IMHO, featuring a slow fade in of squalling white noise (again) and a nagging guitar riff that hooks on to your subconscious and refuses to let go, is Ice Hockey Hair (FF 1998 #29), which lays bare their debt to the Beach Boys in its harmonies and melodic structure, and nearly cracked the top 10.
They had no less than three entries the following year. Turning Tide (FF 1999 #27) was the third track from their first album release for Creation, Guerilla. A surprisingly lush track with a strong acoustic base, it has a psychedelic feel yet with a suggestion of a call to arms.
Northern Lites (FF 1999 #24) was their best-selling single to date, and certainly causes no trouble to the ears with its playful calypso-ish rhythm and steel drums.
Another standout track on the LP was released following a summer of touring. Fire In My Heart (FF 1999 #17) once more starts gently with vocals and acoustic before turning into a tender message of love culminating in an almost gospel-like climax. Gruff Rhys belies his name with some rather soulful singing. This made number 25 in the UK charts.
In the same year, the band’s massive sound was put to good effect in the first ever concert broadcast via the Web in surround sound. They followed this embracing of the new technology available with two DVD albums and a label of their own, Placid Casual, something of a necessity seeing that McGee wound up Creation. They chose to release a largely acoustic album of Welsh language songs, but for their future releases signed to Epic, and came up with an LP of what Gruff described as ‘utopian pop music that had pretensions of being progressive and exciting’. Whether or not they succeeded can be judged by the fact that it is regarded as their most commercial and accomplished release yet. The title track of (Drawing) Rings Around The World (FF 2001 #21) is a reasonable manifesto of this intention, with an extremely poppy atmosphere that propelled it into the top 30.
The band are still around, and promoting their latest release on Rough Trade, Hey Venus!. To me, they will remain an enigma, with the shining moments I would expect a Peel-beloved group to have.