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Music Picks

Super Furry Animals' Next Gem

'Poptastic, cheeky and gorgeous.'

By Elaine Corden 30 Aug 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Elaine Corden writes regularly on pop culture and music for The Tyee. She regularly discusses music and media villainousness on her blog, Trifective.

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Set phasers on 'fun.'

When last we spoke about music, your faithful correspondent was waxing poetic about a solo album by one Gruff Rhys, the gnome-like front man for Welsh psych-pop band Super Furry Animals. I marvelled at Rhys's boundless creativity, and pondered just how many ideas Rhys might have left over for his band. I needn't have worried: Super Furry Animals' Hey Venus!, released in North America this week, is another gem -- their eighth record in a row that boasts the perfect mix of innovation and catchy pop.

Only available on vinyl and MP3 in North America (if you don't own a record player and simply must have the Keiichi Tanaami-designed album art, you can order the CD from Amazon.co.uk), Hey Venus! sees the group returning to their short-burst riot-pop roots -- the album is filled with bouncy numbers that fit in better with their earlier material than the genius, soft space-rock terrain of their last three records.

Opening with "The Gateway Song," Hey Venus! sets phasers on fun from the word go -- "Gateway" is just 43 seconds long, and draws a throwaway parallel between pop music and drugs. ("This song is the gateway song/ it's a numero uno singalong! Opens up nicely to the harder stuff/ But once you get hooked you can't get enough!") It's the kind of punny ridiculousness that SFA built their career on. Though their music has grown far more mature in the 21st century, "Gateway" immediately recalls the 1990s Creation Records band that decommissioned a tank, fitted it with a sound system and drove it to Glastonbury (and then, years later, sold it to bloated Eagle Don Henley, just for the absurdity factor).

Following "Gateway" is even more retro SFA: both "Runway" and the poptastic single "Show Your Hand" could fit nicely on their groundbreaking 1999 album Guerrilla. Indeed, it's not until track four, "The Gift That Keeps Giving," that SFA even begin to sound anything like their last three albums: melodic and plaintive, "The Gift" ventures almost into Gilbert O'Sullivan territory with its earnest lyrics, but a spacey backdrop and lovely harmonies keep things interesting rather than corny.

While there's nothing on here that matches their best albums, 2001's Rings Around The World, and 2000's gorgeous Welsh-language Mwng, Hey Venus! still has more great songs than most bands write in their whole career. "Neo Consumer" is classic agitpop, "Baby Ate My Eight Ball" is '60s girl group lala dressed up in fuzzy guitars, and "Battersea Odyssey" is so catchy that you'll be humming it to yourself after just two listens.

But far and way the best track on the album is "Let The Wolves Howl At The Moon." Pretty and windswept, this is the token "epic" song on Hey Venus! (There's been one on every SFA album since they started making records.) Closing the album, the mature and shamelessly beautiful track bookends the riotous "Gateway" ever-so-cleverly: between those two songs, they've shown they can still make gleeful, cheeky rock songs, hooky pop and, of course, gorgeous AM Gold-style soft rock that somehow makes the AM Gold-style soft rock sound like a good idea.

An interesting moment occurs in "Battersea Odyssey," sung by bassist Huw "Bunf" Bunford. Amidst the throwaway chorus, Bunf sings, "The future isn't what it's supposed to be," a sentiment he expressed on their last record, Love Kraft, when he sang, "The future ain't what it used to be." It's a great window into the Super Furry mindset: the group seems to have a clear vision for the future, while simultaneously never forgetting where they came from -- perhaps the reason that, eight albums in, they've yet to release anything approaching a dud.

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