Vinyl Frontier: Retro Reviews Super Furry Animals - Lovekraft
Super Furry Animals – Lovekraft
By Andrew David James
To say that the Super Furries are unique is an understatement. A bizarre and eclectic blend of sounds and influences, they have beaten their own path during the last 15 years. Rarely observing popular trends, they have become a principality, writing their own rules and rarely conversing with the outside world. They will quite happily welcome you across the border however and that is what makes Gruff and friends such an appealing band.
They had made it all seem too easy in 1997 with their sublime second album ‘Radiator’. It never does to achieve such heights on only your second outing as fellow Britpop members Oasis and Supergrass would agree. It sent them into a head spin, unsure about the best direction to go in therefore explaining ‘Guerillaz’ a pot headed journey into techno rock, ‘Mwng’ their chilled out, scaled down Welsh language album and the very confused ‘Rings Around the World’.
They seemed to be getting back on track with 2003’s ‘Phantom Power’ which mostly dispensed with the mixing desk trickery and embraced good melodies and surf rock. However, after a decade in the business, they found the right ingredients to put together arguably their finest album. Almost seminal because ‘Lovekraft’ is extremely different from what came before or what went after, it shows that keeping things simple can often pay dividends.
Though keeping things simple for the Super Furries isn’t what you would expect. This ‘ain’t going to be a student rock album with three chord songs. Step up ‘Zoom’ where the boys take the plunge before a spine tingling intro is overtaken by the strains of an old musak band, slightly stoned and sleazy, they plod brilliantly through this epic track, up there with ‘Ice Hockey Hair’. They call it the sonic chamber. Well if they do then ‘Atomik Lust’ was recorded in the hub of it.
The distorted organ plus the gorgeous melody and lyrics are magical. The second chorus bobbing back into focus with the lines “I’d love to see the ending someday, of Citizen Kane” is heart rending; the Cardiff boys are looking back a little. I say the Cardiff boys because Gruff shares song writing responsibilities for the first time with Ciaran, Rhys, Ieuan and Bunford. It shows, with a broader more eclectic panoramic sound.
‘The Horn’ is a jaunty and tribal affair as the boys “go with the flow” encompassing resolute cheeriness and cautionary pensiveness across the highly enjoyable 3 minutes. “Ohio Heat” sweats out all the tensions under the blazing sun before Gruff ascends into a catchy and joyous chorus. The album is really finding its pitch now. Many times have the Super Furries abused a decent melody or chorus, guilty of repetition and overkill. The temptation would have been to do the same here yet the composition is perfect leaving the listener satisfied as opposed to bored.
We’re back in the jazz lounge with ‘Walk you Home’ which could be from a lush 1970’s De Palma movie. This dreamy ballad carries you along effortlessly, the strings cultivated not camp. ‘Lazer Beam’ is the archetypal Super Furries blend of techno dance and frenetic madness that they habitually offer to varying degrees of success. Here they pull it off so that the song breaks up the lounge lizard feel to the album.
‘Frequency’ is caught somewhere between the lizard in the underground jazz club and psychedelic Furry madness. A sprawling ballad with a heavenly bridge, it hammers home just how brilliant the Super Furries are at taking us through the ultra violet clouds and back again. As if to celebrate the fact they are on song, we are treated to the pulsating instrumental ‘Oi Fango’ with an urgent acoustic rhythm, simple percussion and a bouncy bass punctuated by some fun and games on the synth. Great stuff.
‘Psyclone’ could be viewed as the only weak number on ‘Lovekraft’; it’s front and swagger trying to obscure some of the musical shortcomings. ‘Back on the Road’ is one of those happy go lucky tracks they have always had in their locker and wraps things up nicely in advance of the rather more melancholy climax to follow. The final two songs on this album are amongst the finest moments the Super Furries have ever produced. Up there with the equivalent brace on ‘Radiator’, their sweetest surfing moments on ‘Phantom Power’ or the sublime ‘Ice Hockey Hair’.
The first track ‘Cloudberries’ is in three movements; the orchestra are in abundance as are the chilled out sonic chamber quintet. Vocal wise Gruff has rarely been in such fine form. A bossa nova rhythm makes up the second part, joined wonderfully by a musak moment before a choir send the song to the stunning climax and the heart tugging sound of a car horn. Lyrically its both short and enigmatic although the second verse prompts one to think it’s a glance down memory lane. Whatever the themes of ‘Cloudberries’, musically it has undoubted pedigree.
‘Cabin Fever’ is all about nostalgia. The dreamy and heart plucking piano intro is followed by Gruff in wistful mood as some kind of solid footing is found after a broken relationship. The Super Furry Animals are never usually as personal as this but you have to be thankful for this cathartic strain that runs through the whole album. It gives the band an emotional depth that they have often lacked composing lyrics about Mac & Cheese or Bubble Gum.
The truly great thing about ‘Lovekraft’ is that, although it’s a complex piece, the listener won’t need any patience to get to know it. Quite simply, courtesy of the sonic chamber and the gorgeous melodies and harmonies, it welcomes you straight in and you feel compelled to listen further. If ‘Radiator’ was a stunningly imaginative album from a young indie band then this is a stunningly imaginative album from a maturing indie band.