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Comeback of the year,
This review is from: Hey Venus! (Audio CD)
If a new, enthralling band you’ve followed for what seemed like an eternity finally make it big - introducing themselves to a wider audience and a glorious future, apart from feeling the odd bit of jealousy, it’s a somewhat satisfying experience. But it can lead you to forget quite how great you can feel when your old favourites return with all matches burning, on their finest form. That can be an even better feeling. It’s been a year in which those priceless comebacks have kept us waiting and waiting. They’ve either been hiding in the corners or they’re just not coming out to play. But if you’ve been refreshing Radiohead’s Dead Air Space for months on end only to find a blog post from Mr.Yorke riddled with….riddles every now and again, here’s a tip: Forget all and just listen to this.
For this is a comeback. Super Furry Animals have, purposely or not, shied away from the mainstream side of our endless musical world for the last decade or so. Album after album, this being their eighth, despite the hundreds of thousands of fans who climb on board each time, they’re still unknown to many. Things aren’t going to change – new single ‘Show Your Hand’ didn’t reach the top 40 in its first week, not that the band would care. But the concerning thing is, how can this happen? Despite the psychedelic influences still making themselves obnoxiously clear, each project the band works on comes out perkier and more poppy. But it’s not reaching the conscience of your everyday British citizen who likes to get all the best new music via the helping hand of Jo Whiley every afternoon.
The band simply won’t care though and this is the most important thing. They’re having fun, and no matter what comes out through their music and no matter what they get back, their smiles won’t fade. So the substance inside the record contains SFA’s unique technique of being weird yet danceable, obvious drug references and a song to match its title, ‘Baby Ate My Eightball’. The album moves carefully through a cycle of a couple of in-your-face anthems into a couple of slower numbers, and the cycle repeats until near the end, introducing us to an excess of sleepiness, which is the only true letdown of the record. Nothing here is too unpredictable, and perhaps the most surprising thing you’ll discover here is the fact that these Welshmen are still making damn good music. With experience comes a lack of ideas unfortunately for some bands, but that curse hasn’t decided to strike this band yet.
The opener ‘Gateway Song’ spans 43 seconds, enough time for you to put on your seatbelt and just about realise that you could be in for a ride. It’s fitting, an ideal introduction that probably describes the album better than I will in these several hundred words. The single, with its soothingly bright chorus, fills you with glee and leaves you swaying graciously with the nearest musical instrument you can find. As for the edgier moments, they make the quieter songs seem insignificant. ‘Noo Consumer’ is bonkers, makes no sense but will get you off your seat, eventually. Leading you towards ‘Into The Night’, sitars at hand, widening their influences. It’s another ambitious pop song that works. The highlight of the record quite possibly, and where the background sounds of the verse could be mistaken for the better days of Morcheeba, the chorus wipes away all your doubts with powerful, poignant guitars.
So there’s only one thing left to explain, those stoner references. It’s obvious that the members of SFA did not talk to Frank - instead going a bit gung-ho, but it’s lazy to call ‘Hey Venus!’ a drug-fuelled, drug-based record. ‘Let The Wolves Howl At Moon’ has the lyrics ‘Took the train to the city/ Packed a gram of this beauty’ which all but confirms those influences, but all credit to Gruff Rhys here, whose voice soars like a husky angel, finishing the record with a touch of beauty and sensitivity. So maybe the drugs do work for this band, because it’ll be a toughie for anyone to beat this for a sensual album closer, drugged-up or not.
The only serious weakness that lies above the rest is the odd tracklisting. Despite it starting well with an all-out-attack approach, the final four songs are all slow movers. So don’t get too carried away when the jubilant and racey ‘Baby Ate My Eightball’ finishes, hoping for just that bit more action. Every single song has its moment though, and you don’t have to search for it. You won’t find an easier album to get into this year, whether you’re a loyal fan to SFA or not. Call it a comeback – a great one.