Tuesday, 9 September 2014
Super Furry Animals
It is almost impossible to describe, other than to just call them “indie”, exactly what genre you would file the Super Furry Animals under. Spiky power pop, techno interludes, acoustic dreaminess, drum and bass breakdowns - they have had a crack at all of these, often all within the same song. They remain one of the most fascinating, original, and glorious bands the UK has ever produced, but never quite got beyond their cult status. Currently on hiatus, their disappearance from the music scene automatically means watching something like Glastonbury on the TV is going to be slightly underwhelming without them around to shake it up a bit.
Formed in 1993, the earliest incarnation of the band was led by future Hollywood superstar Rhys Ifans, but he left before the band even had a sniff of a record deal. In 1995, the group signed a deal with Welsh indie label Ankst, and released their first EP, the now famous “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochynygofod In Space” 7”. It consisted of four songs, all sung in Welsh - when the band later started to record songs in English, they were viewed as traitors by the more hardcore Welsh speaking inhabitants, and the band responded to this by later issuing a gig freebie, with a Welsh title but which translated into English roughly as “This Is A Song To Save The Welsh Language (Not)”.
After another EP on Ankst, “Moog Droog” (including an early version of later hit “God! Show Me Magic”), the band were ‘discovered’ by Alan McGee, a couple of years after he had discovered Oasis, who signed them to his Creation label, and their debut LP, “Fuzzy Logic”, was issued in 1996. It’s timing saw the band lumped in with the Britpop movement, but the album was a far sparkier effort than some of the Dadrock clones who were trundling around - the incendiary roar of the opening “God!”, now in re-recorded form, the slo-mo vibe of “Gathering Moss”, the astonishing melodic pull of “Hometown Unicorn”, the chugging catchy bounce of “Bad Behaviour”, this remains one of the finest debut albums you will ever hear. Some of the “jazz cigarettes” style references can be dangerously close to student prank style childishness (the lyrical content of “Something For The Weekend”, the obsession with Howard Marks), but musically, it’s top notch.
Creation issued four 45’s from the album, each of them of a monumentally high standard, the last of which was the almost Beatles-esque beauty of “If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You”. One of the planned b-sides was a track called “The Man Don’t Give A Fuck”, which featured a sample from a Steely Dan song. However, problems in getting the sample cleared meant that the single had to appear with the track missing, and once the clearance issues were sorted, the decision was taken to release “The Man” as a one sided blue vinyl 7”, and a 12” containing multiple remixes. A CD edition was also released, but with one song less than the 12. A second pressing, from 2004 in a new cover, was issued as a one track CD and 12” featuring a newly recorded live version of the song, as part of the promo for the “Songbook: The Singles Vol 1” best of set.
1997’s “Radiator” carries on where “Fuzzy Logic” left off - beautiful acoustic strums (“Demons”), hi energy guitar pop (“The International Language Of Screaming”), keyboard driven AOR (“Play It Cool”) and indie rock meets techno insanity (“Mountain People”). It was later reissued in 2005 in the USA with a bonus CD EP of period B-sides (as were the band‘s other Creation era studio albums), whilst Ankst re-released the first two EP’s during 97 to cash in on the band’s new found fame in covers similar to the “(Nid) Hon...” gig freebie single.
The band returned in 1998 with an EP, the 4 track “Ice Hockey Hair”, issued in a semi transparent plastic case. A double A-sided 7” featuring two tracks from the EP was also issued in standard packaging to coincide, featuring “Ice Hockey Hair” on one side and “Smokin’” on the other. “Smokin’” was later included on the rarities album “Out Spaced”, issued later the same year, and was used to compile various B-sides, EP tracks and other rarities from the first five years of the band’s career, including the 7“ mix of “The Man“. Initial copies of the CD came in a “breast shaped” rubber sleeve, available in three different colours.
1999’s “Guerrilla” was previewed by the calypso-like “Northern Lites”, and was another album of genre busting genius, be it the Cat Stevens/Nick Drake-esque vibe of “The Turning Tide”, the bleeping minimalist electro sweep of “Some Things Come From Nothing”, or the fizzy punk roar of “Do Or Die”. Initially released on CD in a slipcase - thus meaning slipcase-less copies are worthless - the second single from the LP was the astonishing, almost lullabye style hush of “Fire In My Heart”, a track that slowly builds to a euphoric, key changing, time shifting climax, and is an absolute work of genius. The NME called it a “psychedelic folk gospel record” which they said confirmed the band as the best british singles group “in ages and ages”.
In 2000, the band made a return to their roots by recording a welsh language LP called “Mwng” and issuing it on their own Placid Casual label. It was in many respects a low key affair, described on Wikipedia as an “understated rock record” with a “wintery persona”, and recorded at minimum cost. The album was previewed by a limited edition 7” called “Ysbeidiau Heulog”, which came backed with the unavailable-anywhere-else flipside “Charge”, a raucous racket actually recorded during a BBC Radio 1 Peel Session, as opposed to being a “proper“ studio recording. “Mwng” itself was issued on coloured vinyl, and despite it’s under the radar style release, it still managed to get into the album charts at number 11. The band had recorded the “lo-fi” album in response to the fact that many radio stations were ignoring the pop nuggets that had been offered up on “Guerrilla”, and reasoned that they may as well sing in their native tongue if radio weren’t even playing their English language recordings.
In 2001, the band moved sideways to Sony - Creation had been half owned by the major since the early 90s, and by now had been officially dissolved. The group’s first effort for the “new” label was 2001’s “Rings Around The World”, another glorious piece of genre-shredding “alternative rock”, which included a cameo from Paul McCartney on the catchy-as-hell “Receptacle For The Respectable“, and - over a decade before the “Beyonce” album - promo videos for each and every song. The CD was issued alongside a DVD edition which included all the clips, bonus tracks and remixes - the bonus tracks were later issued in ‘audio’ form as b-sides of future singles. The “cinematic” album was previewed by the sublime “Juxtaposed With U” 45, a wonderful string driven piece of adult pop, albeit with some magnificently bizarre computerised vocal effects in the verses. The title track, issued as the next single, sounded like a cross between The Sweet and ELO, whilst the album threw up more stunning highlights, like the gospel country trill of “Run Christian Run”, or - in the bonus DVD section - the almost hypnotic marching crunch of “All The Shit U Do”.
2003’s “Phantom Power” followed a similar path by also being issued on a DVD edition. Again, there were moments of inventiveness here that other bands could only dream of - “Out Of Control” sounded like Primal Scream jamming with Johnny Cash, opening track and future 45 “Hello Sunshine” was a glorious piece of lighters-in-the-air pop, complete with the immortal “I’m a minger, you’re a minger too” lyric, whilst album closer “Slow Life” was a mesmerising epic, complete with plenty of strings, an insistently nagging chorus, something that sounded like but probably wasn’t a melodica, and at seven minutes long, was still far too short. It was later issued as the lead track on a download only EP, which was also released in physical form as part of the 2004 remix package “Phantom Phorce”, with the EP in it’s own ’floppy disk’ style sleeve, tucked inside a cardboard sleeve that could be unfolded and shaped into an old arcade style machine. Genius.
Following the release of the “Songbook” collection, the Furries seemed to fall slightly off the radar. It was if they were now the old men of indie, and radio seemed uninterested. 2005’s “Love Kraft” was previewed by the “Lazer Beam” 45, and then once the album was out, no more singles were issued. It was the last release by the band on Epic. They then went back to their roots, again, by signing to indie label Rough Trade for 2007’s “Hey Venus” and 2009’s “Dark Days/Light Years”, an album from which no physical single releases were made. If these do turn out to the final releases by the group, it will prove to be a fairly quiet end to one of the UK’s most fascinating, original, and genuinely superb bands.
ALBUMS: LP/CD/DVD/SACD PRESSINGS
Fuzzy Logic (LP, Creation CRELP 190)
Fuzzy Logic (CD, Creation CRECD 190)
Radiator (2xLP, Creation CRELP 214)
Radiator (CD, Creation CRECD 214)
Out Spaced (LP, Creation CRELP 229)
Out Spaced (CD, Creation CRECD 229, with extended mix of “Blerwytirhwng?”, initial copies in rubber sleeve [CRECD 229 L])
Guerrilla (2xLP, Creation CRELP 242)
Guerrilla (CD, Creation CRECD 242)
Mwng (White Vinyl LP, Placid Casual PLC 03 LP)
Mwng (CD, Placid Casual PLC 03 CD)
Rings Around The World (2xLP + 7”, Epic 502413 1)
Rings Around The World (CD, Epic 502413 2)
Rings Around The World (DVD, Epic 201457 9)
Phantom Power (2xLP, Epic 512375 1)
Phantom Power (CD, Epic 512375 2)
Phantom Power (DVD, Epic 202072 9)
Phantom Phorce (2xCD, Placid Casual PLC 07 CD/08 EP, later copies omit the EP and come in standard packaging)
Songbook: The Singles Vol 1 (2xLP, Epic 517671 1)
Songbook: The Singles Vol 1 (CD, Epic 517671 2)
Songbook: The Singles Vol 1 (DVD, Epic 202620 9)
Love Kraft (2xLP, Epic 520501 1)
Love Kraft (CD, Epic 520501 2)
Love Kraft (SACD, Epic 520501 6)
Hey Venus! (LP, Rough Trade RTRADLP 346)
Hey Venus! (CD, Rough Trade RTRADCD 346)
Dark Days/Light Years (2xLP + CD, Rough Trade RTRADLP 546, unique p/s)
Dark Days/Light Years (CD, Rough Trade RTRADCD 546)
Llanfair PG EP: Organ Yn Dy Geg/Fix Idris/Crys Ti/Blerwytirhwng? (7”, Ankst 057, 1997 reissues exist in different p/s)
Llanfair PG EP: Organ Yn Dy Geg/Fix Idris/Crys Ti/Blerwytirhwng? (CD, Ankst CD 057, 1997 reissue in different p/s)
Moog Droog EP: Pam V?/God! Show Me Magic/Sali Mali/Focus Pocus/Debiel (7”, Ankst 062, 1997 reissues exist in different p/s)
Moog Droog EP: Pam V?/God! Show Me Magic/Sali Mali/Focus Pocus/Debiel (CD, Ankst CD 062, 1997 reissue in different p/s)
(Nid) Hon Yw’r Gan Sy’n Mynd I Achub Yr Iaith (Gig only 7”, Debiel SS 01)
Hometown Unicorn/Lazy Life (Of No Fixed Identity)/Don’t Be A Fool, Billy! (CD, Creation CRESCD 222)
God! Show Me Magic (New Version)/Death By Melody/Dim Bendith (CD, Creation CRESCD 231)
Something 4 The Weekend/Waiting To Happen (7”, Creation CRE 235)
Something 4 The Weekend/Waiting To Happen/Arnofio/Glo In The Dark/Something For The Weekend (CD, Creation CRESCD 235)
If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You/Guacamole (7” in stickered poster bag, initially shrinkwrapped, Creation CRES 243)
If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You/Guacamole/(Nid) Hon Yw’r Gan Sy’n Mynd I Achub Yr Iaith (CD, Creation CRESCD 243)
The Man Don’t Give A Fuck (1-sided Blue Vinyl 7”, Creation CRE 247)
The Man Don’t Give A Fuck (7” Mix)/(Howard Marks Mix)/(Wishmountain Mix)/(Darren Price Mix) (12”, Creation CRESCD 247)
Hermann Love’s Pauline/Calimero/Trons Mr Ur (CD, Creation CRESCD 252)
The International Language Of Screaming/Wrap It Up/Foxy Music/No K (CD, Creation CRESCD 269)
Play It Cool/Pass The Time/Cryndod Yn Dy Lais (CD, Creation CRESCD 275)
Demons/Hit And Run (7“, Creation CRE 283, fold out sleeve)
Demons/Hit And Run/Carry The Can (CD, Creation CRESCD 283)
Ice Hockey Hair/Smokin’ (7”, Creation CRE 288)
Ice Hockey Hair EP: Smokin’/Ice Hockey Hair/Mu-Tron/Let’s Quit Smoking (CD, Creation CRESCD 288)
Note: where two or more editions of a single are listed, this is because the extra tracks on the “extended play” formats were later included on “Out Spaced”.
Northern Lites/Rabid Dog/This That And The Other (CD, Creation CRESCD 314)
Fire In My Heart/The Matter Of Time/Mrs Spector (CD, Creation CRESCD 323)
Do Or Die/Missunderstanding (Sic)/Colorblind (CD, Creation CRESCD 329)
Ysbeidiau Heulog/Charge (White Vinyl 7”, Placid Casual PLC 002)
Juxtaposed With U/Tradewinds/Happiness Is A Worn Pun (Cassette, Epic 671224 4)
Juxtaposed With U/Tradewinds/Happiness Is A Worn Pun (12”, Epic 671224 6)
Juxtaposed With U/Tradewinds/Happiness Is A Worn Pun/Juxtaposed With U (Video) (CD, Epic 671224 2)
(Drawing) Rings Around The World/Edam Anchorman/All The Shit U Do (Cassette, Epic 671908 4)
(Drawing) Rings Around The World/Edam Anchorman/All The Shit U Do (12”, Epic 671908 6)
(Drawing) Rings Around The World/Edam Anchorman/All The Shit U Do/(Drawing) Rings Around The World (Video) (CD, Epic 671908 2)
It’s Not The End Of The World/The Roman Road/Gypsy Space Muffin (12”, Epic 672175 6)
It’s Not The End Of The World/The Roman Road/Gypsy Space Muffin (CD, Epic 672175 2)
It’s Not The End Of The World/Gypsy Space Muffin/The Roman Road/It’s Not The End Of The World (Video) (DVD in unique p/s, Epic 672175 9)
Golden Retriever/Summer Snow/Blue Fruit (7” Picture Disc in clear p/s, Epic 673906 7)
Golden Retriever/Summer Snow/Blue Fruit (CD, Epic 673906 2)
Golden Retriever (Video)/Summer Snow/Blue Fruit (DVD, Epic 673906 9)
Hello Sunshine (Radio Edit)/Cowbird (7” Picture Disc, Epic 674360 7)
Hello Sunshine (Radio Edit)/Cowbird/Sanitizzzed (CD, Epic 674360 2)
Hello Sunshine (Video)/Cowbird/Sanitizzzed (DVD in unique p/s, Epic 674360 9)
The Man Don’t Give A Fuck (Live, Hammersmith Apollo) (Numbered 1-sided 12”, Epic 675304 6)
The Man Don’t Give A Fuck (Live, Hammersmith Apollo) (Numbered CD, Epic 675304 2)
Lazer Beam/Sunny Seville (7” in black p/s, Epic 676011 7)
Lazer Beam/Sunny Seville/Colonise The Moon (CD, Epic 676011 1)
Show Your Hand/Never More (7” Picture Disc, Rough Trade RTRADS 402)
Show Your Hand/Aluminium Illuminati/Never More (CD, Rough Trade RTRADSCD 402)
Run Away/These Bones (7” Picture Disc, Rough Trade RTRADS 419)
Run Away/These Bones/That’s What I’m Talking About (CD, Rough Trade RTRADSCD 419)