Super Furry Animals:: Hey Venus! (Album Review)
I really enjoy two songs on this album, only two, and I’ll tell you why.
But first I want to warn that it’s fun for me to bitterly pick on the Super Furry Animals, especially with this new album, for the same reason that in most circumstances I would ravenously defend them (feasting yearly on their entrails), and I’ll tell you why.
Would you like to know how much I truly love Rings Around the World (2001)? With every tri-corner of my wicked, dickish heart; to the very bowels of my soul — no doubt plundered excessively for self-deprecating humor. I’ve been wrecked by “It’s Not the End of the World?” and broke into that mechanical circus wail in the middle of church, spent days trying to abandon the chorus of “Sidewalk Serfer Girl” only to meet unfamiliar students in the hall and overhear them singing, “…I’d do anything.” I jumped up and down really fast when some girl from the audience at an SFA show at the Metro climbed onstage to play violin behind “Run! Christian, Run!” and Gruff mentioned that she had only met them before the show and casually offered. My adoration for them is simple, more tin man than scarecrow. Fairy tales and doody jokes, then big savage pop behind — or probably on top, grinding — wearing a lascivious leotard. My love is cheap and that’s why it lasts.
So, Hey Venus! is a bit of a disappointment to hug and kiss. As David Goldstein’s said, forcing me to agree at gunpoint because I desperately pined to shit on this record, “I kind of lump SFA in with the New Pornos in that they’re incapable of making a ‘worst’ record — some of them just seem better than others.” But, he’s wrong on one point: Phantom Phorce (2004) was actually a concept album (Venus only dons the wool) and it hurt all over, remix deal or not. Still, Hey Venus! isn’t the annual output of a band deranged, compelled by the rude and sinful forces of whimsy, so much as just confident, bored, and creepy stolid.
I shouldn’t be worried, I know. Candylion (2007) blew over quickly, a cardboard cutout of Rhys’s first, catchier, grossly more fun and indulgent solo Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (2005), an album that ground its teeth on inky surf guitar and fat harmonies of similar beach breeding; there, in that year-or-so, was a noticeable, sharp decline. Love Kraft (2005) just turned out as expected, lush and tactile but, with the exception of a sacred, paroxysmal “Cloudberries,” the polyglot-white “Lazer Beam,” and the needling “Oi Frango,” stitched into something obvious and, at that point after a decade of albums that seemed almost subversively backwards, felt an appropriate culmination of tropes and tradition surrounding a band swarthy enough to champion a Tolkien-thick bestiary, ready to draw their loyal, accomplished relationships with producer Mario Caldato, Jr. and fuzzy cartoonist Pete Fowler to an intimate capsheaf.
If it wasn’t for the press intonations of turning, Hey Venus! wouldn’t seem as new-leaf as a Furry fan could imagine; Dave Newfeld (dude who crap kicked out of him in New York; Broken Social Scene maestro that doesn’t currently snog Feist) produces and Keiichi Tanaami (geriatric Japanese psyche-detritus; seriously, that album cover is killing me) helms the sleeve art, but Newfeld’s live recording approach obscures the band’s typically impeccable melodic sense with escutcheons of track overdrive and Tenaami’s art forgoes oddity for hardlined horror. A track like “Baby Ate My Eightball” dodges the porcelain birth canal of “Show Your Hand” or “Suckers” by sounding disjointed, swelling to unctuous grunts and winding lilting harmonies around lambent reverb. The best SFA songs are barber poles, dripping popsicles, wieners wrapped in holiday ribbons — the salt and silt that resident electrolysist Cian Ciaran can traipse through, embellish, build, and then set to pasture with rocket cannons and stilts. Which is why “Fire In My Heart” is so damned explosive; why “Some Things Come From Nothing” gorgeously rolls out end over end, pushed by a starshine squiggle and placating synth; why “Gathering Moss” should be eponymous for the very genesis of the band; and why “Carbon Dating” is the best four-plus minutes here.
Ciaran’s song wastes its aggregate patience within the ringing Village Green Preservation Society (1968) intro, so the rest, encapsulated in plaintive piano and a swooning ape-man waltz, is unaffected, marbled bliss, a shallow gimmick and refreshing for it. Bunf Bunford’s “Battersea Odyssey” follows, suitably drowned, sinister before handclaps draw whales and cuddly urchins from whatever dark blue depths wherever. Maybe this time around I just like everything Gruff Rhys didn’t pen even though he acts the Animal most adept at crafting Hey Venus! as faster, headier, more efficient than anything the band’s done since Fuzzy Logic (1996); his ostensible pick-up after the spelunking of the past two releases is all admirable and shit, probably opting for meatier live experiences, but nothing really builds here, nothing sidles against haphazard brilliance, nothing situates. It simply exists. “The Gift That Keeps Giving” is as it will ever be, a French horn the only seam showing, and Rhys harmonizing with himself sounds as utterly effortless as the trick ever has. For that immutability it will be cast into the void, one daring, lonely piece of the first Super Furry Animals album to not succeed as a thorough unit.
So, Hey Venus! is like a really good haircut: it’s brisk, light around the ears, and after so many ‘do permutations it’s bound to get some compliments about how civilized it looks, how grown up. Not as fast as Gruff might want you to think, as it follows the destiny of every Furry album and slows into cotton by the closing song, but it does seem inexplicably lighter — less jostle, more hustle. Which is fine; for every love like mine, craving saturation, that extra chorus and five more vocal tracks, seven minutes to find the kernel, there’s your opposite love, the “Man Don’t Give a Fuck” love, the “Chupacabra” love, so maybe it’s time we admit it, together. Time I get juxtaposed with u.
(Review by: Dom Sinacola)