Super Furry Animals
Phantom Power
Epic
2003
C



i slipped off Rings Around The World like an ant off frictionless glass, its expensive and slick production screaming 'maturity!' and 'longevity!' at me until I couldn't hold on anymore and had to let go. Nonplussed by Fuzzy Logic, in love with Radiator and Guerilla, keen on Outspaced and (sinfully, I know) never really arsed to listen to Mwng much (not because it's in Welsh but because it's got no techno). Where's the frivolous glam pop stomp on Rings Around The World? All these mature meanderings about politics, these too-accomplished descents into electronic wibble, these ballads and suites- they're no fun, are they? And previously that's what SFA have been about. The title track managed it, just about, and "It's Not the End of the World" was sweetly melancholic enough, but- fuck, no, 'enough' is never enough.

The first side of Phantom Power starts slow. "Hello Sunshine" has a Beatles title, some wistfully sampled female vocals to start (can't remember who they are as I left the sleeve at home), and is a sweet, winsome pop song with just a touch of Nashville and some beautifully bonkers lyrics (“I’m a minger / you’re a minger too / so come on minger / I want to ming with you…”). "Sex, War and Robots" is proper country though, lavished with pedal steel (I still wince slightly whenever I hear that particular instrument, though I'm getting better) and Tennesse sunsets. "Golden Retriever" is a refreshingly ridiculous wiggle, short and to-the-pointless. But then we get "The Piccolo Snare" which begins as a woozy psychedelic ballad before finding something akin to a wicked groove for a minute or two, and is perhaps the first really top moment of the record.

"Out of Control" is a sinister Ziggy lurch with properly odd Super Furry’s lyrics and a riff you're sure they've pinched off someone else, and runs straight into "Cityscrape Skybaby" which is the peak of the record, and exactly what I would want SFA to be doing at this point in their career, starting with sweet melodicism and odd lyrics (“she smells of cabbages”?) and slowly turning into something buzzing, whooping, and verging on sensory overload. "Slow Life", which is not particularly slow, is equally great and achieves symbiosis between techno and guitar-pop better than anything else they've done before with the possible exception of "Some Things Come from Nothing" off Guerilla. It starts like the noise made by the best fairground in the universe, turns into Orbital for a minute, and then finds itself in “Brimful Of Asha” territory, oozing and romping along for seven quick minutes and threatening to “cluster-fuck you”.

Elsewhere there are a couple of short, pretty instrumentals and an armful of SFA-by-numbers pop songs, of which the best are tail-enders “Valet Parking” (car noises and sublime electronic synthesis) and “The Undefeated” (parping horns and Disco Inferno-style gun shots to finish). It's a shame to say it, but Phantom Power feels very much like business as usual for the Welsh wizards, as if they've made just another album. A shame, but far from a travesty. Gruff whispers more than I'd like, there isn't quite enough lysergic madness and stomping odd-pop, and the 'phantom' addressed is presumably US foreign policy and the people who come up with and support it. They’re still one of the most notable alternative pop bands in Britain, just not quite as magnificently unpredictable as they once were.
Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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