Super Furry Animals - "Radiator"
(Flydaddy 1999, Fly 034)
From Aural Innovations #7 (July 1999)
Super Furry Animals is sort of the Welsh answer to Athens, Georgia's 'Elephant 6' collective that includes Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Elf Power, among others. Accordingly, their quirky psych-pop owes a bit to Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles and perhaps even the Jetsons. 'Radiator,' the follow-up to the 1996 debut 'Fuzzy Logic,' is already kinda old (released in 1997 in the UK) as they've already got 'Guerilla' lined up for release on Creation Records in the UK. However, they've just been touring here in the U.S., and are starting to receive some attention and high praise.
There's one simple way of telling whether or not you might like 'Radiator'... it comes down to poppy harmonizing. On one track ('The International Language of Screaming') it's "La...la...la," later ('Short Painkiller') it's "Ooh...ooh...ooh," and finally ('Hermann Loves Pauline') it's "Bop...bop...bop." OK, there's a true spirit of fun and a party atmosphere overall, but the cheesy choruses turn dreadful real quick. The music isn't all bad though and Gruff Rhys, the band's lead vocalist, actually has a fine voice on his own. Super Furry Animals also produce a lot of variety, a bouncy surf tune here, a touch of techno/drum 'n' bass there, and a host of rompin' retro rockers. But there's still a lot of dreariness to wade through until you reach the album's stronger tunes, all clustered at the end. On 'Bass Tuned To D.E.A.D', guitarist Huw Bunford lays down an opening jammin' riff, but it's really the Mellotronish synths and cool phaser-buzzing that flavor this tune and make it one of the album's true highlights. Similar noises and bleeps are featured in 'Down A Different River,' which ranges back and forth between a laid-back dreamy piece and grandiose power ballardry. The vocals are really well done here, so I've stopped cringing for the moment. The remainder of the album is decent enough, and even wraps up with a taste of an old-style space march on 'Mountain People.'
This music isn't really my 'thing,' so it can only have a certain limited appeal to my tastes - and given that, 'Radiator' is at least tolerable, and even pretty cool in places. I don't mind their open silliness and quirky retro stylings... it's really the harmony vocals and occasional bright sounds (crashy cymbals and trumpets) that I can't stomach too much. And since they've already completely revamped their style once (they started out as a techno band), perhaps they'll evolve into something more palatable to me.
You can visit Super Furry Animals at their web site.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson