Phantom Power Album reviews.
Release Date: 06.22.03
Record label: Beggars XL Recordings
The Gorgeousest Album of the Year
by: matt cibula
I'm a huge fan of the Super Furries, but I didn't know where they'd go after Rings Around the World. Well, Phantom Power is where they've gone, and damned if it isn't the gorgeousest album of the year, and of their entire gorgeous career. From the passionately mellow summer doo-wop of "Hello Sunshine" to the two instrumental interludes called "Father Father" to the "Tusk"-styled uplifting pep-rally of "The Undefeated," Phantom Power contains more timeless melodies, more sonic texture, more perfectly honed (but still off-kilter) lyrics, and more flat-out wonder at what five humans in a recording studio can accomplish than anything else I've heard this year, except possibly for Mexico's (somewhat similarly styled) El Gran Silencio. The Super Furries set out to make the Greatest Pop Album they could make, and they hit the bullseye.
This is more country-inflected than longtime fans are used to, maybe, and their Beach Boys fixation is by now completely out of control. But these are good things, because they provide them the chance to integrate their techno and rock fetishes into a wider context. They're not running back and forth between different kinds of music anymore—every song contains every music. In the middle of the deliberate "Bleed Forever," we hear subtle little synth lines that contribute to the song instead of just saying "HEY HERE WE ARE!" In the next song, the tense metallic boogie "Out of Control," we hear rollicking honky-tonk piano. And the seven-minute closer "Slow Life" starts out being a Cian Ciaran techno showpiece, verges into electroclash and symphonic pop and 70's boogie and alt.country, and then back to a big ol' good ol' SFA computer meltdown, and then back again, probably the single most intense thing they've ever done and inspirational to boot. It's all fair, it's all love, it's all gravy.
But it's not just that the record sounds good. This is a record with tension at its heart. On the one hand, main lyricist/singer Gruff Rhys is mad and angry and confused about the political and economic and ecological state of the world; on the other, he and the rest of the band are trying to find peace through music. "Liberty Belle" recasts the Statue of Liberty as a superheroine gone mad ("Memory babe forgot her way / After all this time / And she never learned from her mistakes / And all the crime") but its sweet XTC-esque melody makes the medicine go down smoothly. Song after song fights this battle: Is the title character in "Golden Retriever" the devil or a dog? (answer: both); is the Russian woman in "Cityscape Skybaby" a murderer or a hero? (answer: both); is this world better described by "The Undefeated" or "Sex, War & Robots"? (answer: again both).
Music is clearly the only escape for these Welshmen, and in fact for all of us. In "The Piccolo Snare," the protagonist actually learns to about deal with thinking about war by imagining his way into a drum sound. Now THAT's a solution: keep your eyes open, but surround yourself with perfect sound. And this album is the perfectest, beautifulest, gorgeousest sound of the year.
P.S. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that the best song on the record is about a kid raised by wolves who turns for solace to his pet turtles named for the Williams sisters, with the chorus "Venus and Serena understand." Just so you know: they're still a bunch of weirdos. But they're OUR weirdos. Cherish them. 07-Aug-2003 9:10 AM