Super Furry Animals: Phantom Power

Super Furry Animals
Phantom Power

From Beyonce to the White Stripes, from Radiohead to 50 Cent, a preponderance of pop circa 2003 can comfortably accommodate a retro-something tag. Now don't get me wrong: Reverent plunder of the past is entirely Justified, and there's no reducing the 3-D pop planets of Timbalake, Knowles, or the Whites to one-reference-point perspective. But can you imagine a band that's retro-everything, who can organize unruly coalitions of psychedelia and cocksucker blues, of punk and folk and metal, then let them loose to dance, fight, or fuck in totally new positions? And what if they were blatantly left-wing, too? And sometimes they sang in Welsh?

Welcome to the Super Furry Animals kingdom, where the gods have bestowed their blessing on all the species to interbreed beautiful mongrels. It's a multiple-personality landscape in which lush orchestral foliage can suddenly open into Spirit of '77 magma spurts or mechanized Metropoli, often within one song that tattoos its map on the listener's cochlea. The Cardiff quintet's sixth LP boasts enough gears to drive rings around the drum-frenzied Tropicalia of "Valet Parking," the fuzzbox garage rave-up of "Venus and Serena" (which casts its heroines as empathic pet tortoises!), and the sinister T. Rex swagger of the thrilling first single, "Golden Retriever," wherein lead genius Gruff Rhys improvs his own bluesman lingo amid devil-sympathizing backup vocals.

Phantom Power originated as a concept album built around the chord pattern D-A-D-D-A-D, an arrangement found on a pair of wistful-pomp instrumentals seemingly purloined from Nick Drake's Bryter Later sessions and both called "Father Father." But the record enacts less an Oedipal struggle than a hawks vs. doves matchup, and just like back in the real world, the hawks are winning. Rhys's lyrics variously invoke the Falklands debacle and "ninja jihad" (the latter on the aptly titled "Out of Control"); Chernobyl's lethal dust again scatters over North Wales while "the ashes fly from New York City" and into the global sky on "Liberty Belle." At turns ethereal and riotous, Phantom Power proves as anxious, overloaded, and shellshocked as any early-century newspaper reader.

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