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Super Furry Animals:: ‘Hey Venus’ (Album Review)

Despite its many languid pleasures, 2005’s “Love Kraft” appeared to have checked the Super Furry Animals’ ever upward trajectory. After reaching crossover heights with “Rings Around The World” and “Phantom Power”, but failing to actually crossover, it’s like they puked all their indulgences out at once. Recorded in Columbia and kicking off with the sound of a band member diving into a swimming pool, the resulting album often felt unfocussed, lazy, flabby, and above all, like a major label obligation.

The good news then, is that having cleared out their closet (signing to independent Rough Trade, waving goodbye to long-term designer Pete Fowler and hiring producer Dave Newfield) the Super Furries sound revitalised and rejuvenated. “Hey Venus!” is conspicuously short and sweet, and as a result among the greatest things they’ve ever done.

The opening tracks are certainly their best shot at the Top 40 for years. “Show Your Hand” was a subtly melodic first single (unveiled on T4’s “Party On The Beach”, with Gruff bewildering the kids in his Power Ranger’s helmet, and then, more perversely, on Richard Arnold’s GMTV “Breakfast Show”) but it’s “Run-Away” that most will consider the album’s true classic. Built on that familiar “dum-de-dum-dum” Phil Spector drum beat, it welds a killer falsetto chorus to a latterday incarnation of the “Wall Of Sound”.

That such hackneyed symbols of ‘classic pop’ can be turned into what is undeniably ‘classic pop’ is the true mark of their genius. The Beach Boys influences are strong as always, particularly on the effortlessly swinging “Carbon Dating”. Other obvious highlights? “The Gift That Keeps Giving”, a pure blue-eyed soul tune, of the sort that Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham used to churn out four decades ago, while “Neo Consumer” is a dead ringer for Eno-era Roxy Music.

However, it would be a mistake to consider “Hey Venus” an exercise in archaeology. Sure, the Super Furries may cock an eye and ear to the past, but their minds are always forward-thinking. Certainly, “Neo Consumer”‘s rally at eco-nomics and human self-importance – “I believe in death after life, switch off the light, bye bye bye” – are dispatched with more purpose than the whole Live Earth bill. They’ve not forgotten how to nail matters of the heart either.

This is evident throughout, and none more so than on closer “Let The Wolves Howl At The Moon”. A waltz-like, country-tinged piece of magic, it appears to suggest that the man still don’t give a f*ck – with Gruff effectively crooning “Que sera, sera” – “the end it comes so soon” – while wide-eyed with wonder. Their contemporaries might have burnt out or sold out, but the Furry vision remains undimmed. As a beacon of light and cheer in a world of darkness, it closes a beautiful album perfectly well.
(by Adam Webb)