When the Super Furry Animals (SFA) released their debut LP in 1996, Britpop was approaching its apex. We were into the bloated post Blur vs Oasis environment. Pretty much anyone who could handle bass guitar and drums and could string a cheery Beatles/Kinks influenced ditty together seemed to be getting a record deal. A year later, the bolt had well and truly been shot with Tony Blair chumming up to anyone who he could get through the doors of Number 10 in a Ben Sherman shirt and Cool Britannia had become a phrase of derision rather than pride.
It’s telling personally how little of the music that sat within that flag of convenience I listen to now, particularly whole albums. I haven’t played Blur’s “Parklife” in years, dulled by overfamiliarity. Their later albums were more interesting but boy – were they overlong. I struggled with Oasis at the time and it hasn’t got any better. There are any number of bands that recorded the odd memorable song but consistent standalone LPS were hard to come by.
There were two exceptions. Pulp had learned their craft and their run of albums from 1994’s “His’n’Hers” to 2001’s criminally underrated Scott Walker produced “We Love Life” stand up well.
The other exception is Super Furry Animals. Their countrymen the Manic Street Preachers were well established but coming to terms on with the disappearance of Richie Edwards in 1996. The coincident release of SFA’s “Fuzzy Logic” and the Manics “Everything Must Go” on 20th May was prescient. It effectively launched two careers. The post Richie Manic’s morphed into something a little different, a little more sustainable possibly. Richie’s polemical approach to lyric writing was challenging but ultimately had to develop – it possibly/probably would have.
The Furrys were and are different. They didn’t need to surf the wave of a artificially created cultural phenomenon. Their first album was quickly followed by “Radiator” a year later. It became instantly evident that here was a band that was capable of putting an album as statement together. “Fuzzy Logic” felt like a reaction to Britpop, “Radiator” sounded like something that could have emerged in the early Seventies. They would improve too. Each album from the electronically enhanced “Guerrilla” through the Welsh language “Mwng”, the hit laden “Rings Around The World” through to the truly wonderful “Phantom Power” in 2003 represented a progression. Their remaining LP’s wavered only slightly but all of them had true delights.
And then after 2009’s “Dark Days/Light Years” it all went very quiet. There was an abundance of solo projects but no group activity until last year’s shows coinciding with the 15th anniversary re-release of “Mwng”. There were no public recriminations or disagreements in the intervening period – the band just took a break. Even now the only new material released was the lovely “Bing Bong”, recorded to celebrate Wales appearance at the 2016 European Football Championships. The band’s only gig in the hiatus was a tribute to the Welsh manager Gary Speed who had so sadly committed suicide.
So in here at the end of 2016, SFA are touring their first two albums to celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Fuzzy Logic” and are throwing in the 19th anniversary of “Radiator” in a musical buy-one-get-one-free.
Arriving on stage with their biohazard suits and carrying their cue card placards, the band launch into side one of their debut LP.
It immediately becomes apparent how front loaded the album. All of the singles sound wonderful, especially the extra horns on “Hometown Unicorn” and “If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You”. We went as a family and I looked across at my 12 year old daughter singing along – all going to plan.
And then it came back to me – as I remembered at the time, “Fuzzy Logic” tails off quality wise on side two. Some of the musical invention and subtlety goes missing around “Mario Man” and “Hangin’ With Howard Marks” and a little of the Roundhouse’s traditional sound murk doesn’t help.
“Radiator” is a different kettle of fish though. Its quality shines through and it also works better as a coherent whole. “Demons” was the high spot of the evening, the horns in particular taking it to places not far away from Arthur Lee’s Love and “Forever Changes”. “She’s Got Spies” was beautifully rendered and the pop hooks of “Play It Cool” were the signpost for where the band went next delivering inventive diverse singles such as “Juxtaposed With U” and “Hello Sunshine” (which I about previously here).
The band finished off the evening with their usual extended “Man Don’t Give A Fuck”, sampling Steely Dan’s “Showbiz Kids” to great effect.
On reflection, it wasn’t quite the evening it could have been. The quality shone ultimately through. However the format was perhaps an obvious but strange choice. The December gig market is a good time nostalgia fest. Friends of mine have been to see The Specials and From The Jam in the last few weeks. SFA don’t need to be ploughing that furrow on a long term basis.
SFA have all of the songs to absolutely work in this environment. If they had taken a leaf out of the Manic’s book and played their singles back to back to accompany their recently released greatest hits, they’d have brought the house down. By sticking to the two LP format they did two things for me.
Firstly they highlighted that “Fuzzy Logic” isn’t quite a match for what followed, both directly with “Radiator” and latterly with “Rings Around The World” and “Phantom Power”.
Secondly and more importantly, they highlighted how desperate I am to hear new material. It is almost 8 years since their last LP, the slightly underbaked “Dark Days/Light Years”. The time is ripe for a new album. In doing so, their live shows would be freshened up and they wouldn’t be constrained by their own history.
A fun evening but a bit of a missed opportunity.
(live photos c/o Live4ever.uk/.com)