Super Furry Animals
ith a few exceptions I’ve always liked the idea of Super Furry Animals more than the reality; some of the early, drug-happy eclecticism seemed perhaps a little forced, while the songwriting has grown a touch forgettable in recent years. Indeed an early attempt to listen to Hey Venus! saw me give up after about 90 seconds, but eventually knowledge that a review had to be written caused me to persevere. I’m glad I did.
Rumored as a return to the dizzying pace and inventiveness of their first three albums, Hey Venus! in reality is nothing of the sort. Songs are shorter and more concise than they have been recently, but the tempos are generally on the tepid side, and there’s scant evidence of the group’s early forays into techno-inspired electronic insanity and situationist rebellion. They’ve grown up a lot since “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck.” I’m undecided as to whether this is a good thing or not.
Supposedly Hey Venus! is a conceptual affair, detailing the eponymous Venus’ wanderlust as she heads for the bright lights of the city, gets burnt, and goes home again. You don’t need to be a semiotic genius to see this as an allegory for SFA’s own flirtation with the mainstream via their arrival on Sony after Creation dissolved. Now safely back on a label that can deal with bands by tactics other than the disinterested paternalistic urge to chuck money at them, SFA seem far more comfortable, even if they’re still nowhere near to re-scaling the oddpop heights of Radiator or the schizeclecto diversions of Guerilla.
Hey Venus! starts slowly. The ponderously mature but faultlessly composed adult pop of “Run Away” has Phil Spector-drums, “Show Your Hand” has tasteful guitars. Things warm up considerably in the mid-section though, as “Neo Consumer” builds up a heady techpop fuzz and “Into the Night” rocks towards outer space on an enervated chorus and multi-directional arrangement. The following “Baby Ate My Eightball” is refreshingly and reassuringly odd, too, suggesting that SFA haven’t entirely descended into respectable singer-songwriter schlock.
Saying this, the songs are still a pleasure, and more of one than they perhaps have been recently; they’re fat-free, weaned on nutritious horns and strings, occasionally spiced with a sprinkle of studio magic, and largely escaping the sonic obesity of most modern rock. “Carbon Dating” is a sweetly idiosyncratic number with an endearing lyrical conceit, while “Suckers” sympathetically bemoans the, ahem, suckers “in the mainstream”; a self-referential dig at themselves and their contemporaries who tried a bash at big time success and found themselves dissatisfied, perhaps.
What Hey Venus! ultimately is, is a good record of classy pop/rock songs, arranged and produced well, shot through with a degree of personality and skill, and almost completely lacking in the inspired, eclectic madness which made Radiator and Guerilla so damn good. If it was that madness that attracted you to SFA in the first place now is the time to mourn its passing, but there is much here to praise as well as bury.