Super Furry Animals
Songbook – The Singles Volume One
f Songbook marked the end of the Super Furry Animals’ career as a tripped out psychedelic punk-pop techno outfit, then their eulogy would be “because we can”.
This was a band that pioneered the first ever simultaneous DVD and CD album release, gigs in 5.1 Surround Sound (2002’s Rings Around The World), the highest-ever-charting Welsh language album (2000’s Mwng, to No. 11), the B-sides album packaged in a thick rubber casing, weirdly shaped like the teat end of a condom. Or a nipple. And that’s before we look at the single release of a song containing 50+ f-words, the charming-yet-aptly-titled “The Man Don’t Give A Fuck”, which originally charted just outside the top 20.
Taking opportunism to the next level, the Super Furries re-released the above anarchic blitz to mark the release of Songbook, a collection of all of the bands 21 singles. This twenty-odd minute live version (perhaps sensibly dropped from Songbook in favour of the original studio track), is perhaps one of the most erroneous singles of the year. Bill Hicks swears a bit and tells us that all governments are “liars and murderers”. After the song (which is strangely inconsequential here), the audience is left to dance to fifteen minutes of mental techno before the band return to run through the sweary onslaught once more.
Sure, it sounds like a gimmick—and a childish one at that, but the band always prided themselves on their ability to punctuate their electro-Beach Boys sound with the faintly political and the just plain daft. Thematically, “Something 4 The Weekend”’s punchy wine-tasting references shouldn’t sit well with “It’s Not The End Of The World?” (a string-laden ballad about growing old in the face of the apocalypse), but in the world created for us by Gruff Rhys and co, everything makes sense. Rising house prices, mating dogs, spies, radiation, tomatoes and “mingers” meet with regular sunny intervals (see “Ysbeidiau Heulog”, “Northern Lites” and “God! Show Me Magic”) to create an exuberant rainbow of chaotic pop.
All this may lead the uninitiated to wonder about integrity or whether SFA are more than just a “wacky” student band in the mould of Space. But after the punk, pop and pot of their debut long-player Fuzzy Logic, the band focused on constantly pushing the boundaries of creativity, rather than gimmickry. Short, experimental interludes adorned all of the band’s subsequent albums, whilst rock was both seamlessly and pleasingly welded to techno on numerous occasions. Perhaps Songbook’s only pitfall (by its very nature as a singles album) is its omission of almost all of these moments, moments that almost certainly underpinned the band’s longevity.
What we do hear from this part of the Super Furry arsenal exudes detail, texture—exquisite originality. “Slow Life” starts with a laptop in a haunted fairground, and leaves us chanting its post-“Loaded” blissed-out mantra, while “Blerwytirhwng?” whimsically reflects before its crossfades cause it to implode. “Hermann Loves Pauline”, from the headache inducing Radiator album, is another such example. Featuring eardrum-splitting crashes, beguiling lyrics, drums played in vacuums, vocals recorded from detuned radios, and real, enthralling harmonies, “Hermann…” may just be the jewel in the SFA crown. “We have ways of making you think” indeed.
It took ten years for the Super Furry Animals to compile Songbook, and the band show no sign of letting up on their intense record/release/tour schedule. The hidden subtitle on its front cover reads “Volume One”. You might be inclined to think that sounds ambitious, but that (of course) is the point.
Reviewed by: Colin Cooper
Reviewed on: 2004-10-12