Phantom Power CD
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SUPER FURRY ANIMALS Phantom Power (2003 UK 14-track CD including the single Hello Sunshine picture sleeve)
After a fan-baiting two year gap since the 2001 release of Rings Around The World, Super Furry Animals' long-awaited follow-up arrives. But was the wait worthwhile?
Well, naturally Wales' most consistently remarkable band rarely disappoint on record. Phantom Power is SFA's sixth album proper (discounting 1998's stopgap Out Spaced, a collection of b-sides and rarities). And if you were expecting the creative juices to be running a little dry by now, you could barely be more wrong.
Produced by the band, Phantom Power keeps a much lower profile than RATW. Whereas once they were technicolour, now they've gone back to basics. Phantom Power is, for the most part, awash with pedal steel, acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies.
Seasoned Furrywatchers should be warned: initial impressions are not great. There are few obvious singles, for example, and a couple of songs - "Valet Parking", "Cityscape Skybaby" - feel like lazy throwaways.
However, repeated listening reveals hidden depths and delights aplenty. And, these being Super Furry Animals, a fair number of surprises are inevitably pulled out of the bag. Epic closer "Slow Life" is SFA's most successful mindrattling techno attempt so far. "The Piccolo Snare" begins dark and brooding with folk harmonies, before exploding into a sunshine crescendo before drifting off towards a Krautrock horizon, and Huw Bunford's "Sex, War & Robots" is an unexpectedly tender hymn to childhood that could melt the hardest of hearts.
Gruff Rhys' songwriting moves a step forward on Phantom Power, with playful story-based lyrics about turtles, mingers, ninjas and cabbages contrasting with lines about death, radiation and war. As Gruff says about "Venus & Serena", "I'm trying to get balladeering into my songs, but I don't think I've perfected it by any means, You can put this one down to my struggle with narrative!"
It's not the only instance of experimental songwriting on the album. Several songs, including the perfect Iggy rock of "Out Of Control" and - crucially - the two Father Father instrumentals, are based on a DADDAD open guitar tuning which recurs throughout the album.
But most notable is the tangible air of despondency that hangs over many of the songs. Phantom Power reflects the politically precarious times in which it was written: the fear of war and destruction is tangible, with plentiful references to body bags, oil wells, bombs and tarnished flags.
It's a tribute to SFA's skill and versatility that Phantom Power isn't the miserablist, mournful collection it could so easily have become. On the contrary, they've assembled a collection that is at times uplifting, joyous and frivolous, and is their most consistent collection since 1997's Radiator. Where do they go from here? One suspects, for SFA, the possibilities are limitless. Review courtesy of BBC Wales Music --Jack Smith
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Top customer reviews
I now feel able to review this masterpiece after two weeks and a dozen plays right through. How do you market an LP of this nature, when it must be the hardest thing in the world to think of single to promote it. National radio can't handle anything as way out as tracks that have different endings to the their beginnings (And no, not even you Jo Whiley!!)]
Hence Golden Retreiver was obvious as is maybe Venus and Serena, as they are both instantly catchy and likeable. Go deeper and play more though and feel your mouth open in splendour at The Piccolo Snare and Hello Sunshine (but why that sample at the start??) And i'm not even gonna start about Slow Life...yet!
Let's face it, these boys are wonderful, imaginative and creative like we haven't had for a while, i'm biting my lip trying not to mention the White Album or Abbey Road, but you can't help the comparison. Sure, The Thrills, Kings Of Leon et al are solid enough, but please, I implore you, sit down and listen closely to Phantom Power and in particular, Slow Life. This is Techno, music hall, guitar stomp and back again at least twice in 7 minutes of great music. A little word for The Undeafeted too, we can't ignore this Ska tribute, but unlike most tributes, this would would settle well in any Specials lp.
I have been collecting popular music all my life (which is a mighty long time now!!) and a good few bands are in my heart. None take up as much room as The Super Furry Animals. And for that I salute them. Buy or hang your head in shame.
My favourite track's "Cityscape Skybaby", which is music that could comfortably accompany the titles of a fantasy sci-fi epic, such is its scale, and the guitar/synth solo is just perfect. Urban music by definition....in that it has a very "Urban" sound to it (Cityscape!)
On a more parochial level is "The Piccolo Snare", which sounds absolutely perfect when driving through the countryside on a grey, overcast day. The electronics at the end are just.....that word again, perfect.
"Liberty Belle" could be placed alongside "Mr. Bluesky" and "Soldier Girl" in the list of the "Happiest songs of all time". The lyrics might not be too positive, but such sunny melodies, the (ahem) perfect pop song....
They save the best 'til last though. "Slow Life" is perfect (I promise, that's the last time I'll use that word) opening music...EVERY album made by anyone should have Slow Life as the opening track....EVERY band should perform a cover as their opening song when live....of course, the SFA use it as their set opener nowadays and it rocks. Presumably it was placed at the end to leave a lasting impression, and because "Hello Sunshine" is very pretty.
Phantom power has it all from Summery acoustic ballads(Hello Sunshine, Bleed Forever)to Modern pop/rock (Liberty Belle, Venus & Serena)and Beach Boys type songs (Cityscape Skybaby) theven attempt Welsh reggae on The Undefeated and show they are not afraid to rock on Out of Control. Those songs alone would make it a great album but there are two that take it to another level, final song Slow Life with its techno beats and harmonica is astonishing and guitarist Bunf's Sex, War and Robots is my favourite song of all purely because when the whole band sing "If tears could kill, i'd be a long time gone" its so beautiful it could melt even the hardest of hearts. If you are wondering what to buy with your Christmas HMV vouchers buy this. Nuff Said!!
Yet what it also offers cannot be ignored. The animations contributed by long time animator for the animals Pete Fowler help explain the song and are often funny, touching and even rather deep, fans of his "monsterism" artwork and toys, and SFA fans alike will love these cartoons. Also featured is an album length wallpaper (that moves and has occasional surprises) and some ultra hidden footage (took me a while to find). These make the deal all the more sweeter.
The one dissapointment for some may be the videos featured for the songs. Where 2001's "rings around the world" DVD offered funny, brilliant, if sometimes low budget, videos this dvd offers more of a screensaver to glare at. You get your TV turned into a lava lamp, a colour spectrum, a wall clock, a radio and many other strange things.
So if you expect great videos, don't buy this DVD. I for one love this new direction as i found the ring around the world videos distracting. Instead this time the band offer brilliant images that enhance to the feeling of the sound rather than distract your listning. A bubble rising to the rock riff of "out of control" and cells of colour joining to the techno folk of "slow life" seem strangly very relavent.
After all the dvd is all about the 5.1 surround mix and so if thats what you want, this will be a great purchase with the added bonus of brilliant "screen saver" videos. If you want music videos, watch mtv.
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