What can’t the Furrys do? Ten years after forming in Cardiff, Wales, U.K.’s pet-friendly yet often lyrically baffling Super Furry Animals have sallied forth with another multi-media release, making their unique vision of a Technicolor cartoon apocalypse available to everyone. They did it last year with the simultaneous CD/DVD release of the critically acclaimed Rings Around the World and have done it again with Phantom Power, an audio/visual caterwaul in the woods between isolationist politics and adult swim.
With benevolent Beach Boys-pop harmonies springing up in, for instance, the waggish “Liberty Belle,” the Furrys are at their best when bordering contradiction: “You know you’re digging to hell/ drowning in your oil well/ as the ashes fly from New York City . . . past the kids who like to smoke like chimneys to the sky.” While it may not be that difficult to make American foreign policy sound like a Sesame Street sing-along, SFA — famous for tour gags and sound-effects collaborations with Sir Paul McCartney — are far from being an ordinary band of merry pranksters. With Phantom Power, SFA has again juxtaposed witty socio-political commentary and a preoccupation with world annihilation with bubbly cartoon creatures and assuaging, easy-listening arrangements.
A large part of the appeal of SFA, which subscribes to the “If nothing is sacred, then everything is permitted” philosophy, is that the band has the freedom to explore genre as frequently as they exploit famous personalities like “Venus and Serena.” Take, for instance, the metal riff in “Out of Control” with lyrics like: “Fast and cheap/ Ninja jihad/ Suck my oil/ Feel my vineyard/ I am scum/ You are scum/ Bus has gone/ Bye so long/ Overrun and out of control.” This little gem rubs shoulders with the Beatles-esque “Bleed Forever,” a ditty on the slow poisoning of society through pollution and ineptitude.
Phantom Power is no exception to the SFA “anything goes” rule. From the electro-funk of “Slow Life” to the alt-country twang of “Sex, War & Robots,” SFA continues to master genre while waxing lyrical all the while — you just have to dig into the liner notes if you want to decipher Gruff Rhys’s muffled “Living ’94/ When you and me were at war/ I’z born a baby that didn’t cry/ Programme Robots 2 make them lie.”