Super Furry Animals and Depeche Mode's latest reviewed for you. Here's what we thought
Super Furry Animals
6/7 Dark Days/Light Years Saint Patrick was a Welshman, kidnapped by Irish slavers as a teenager. In 1301, King Edward I of England named his own baby ‘the Prince of Wales’ because he thought the boy’s goo-goo-ga-ga gibberish sounded like Welsh. In short, Wales gets no love.
The injustice carries on today. Despite consistently churning out playful, brilliant pop albums since 1996, the land’s greatest band, Super Furry Animals, remain a bit of an unknown quantity abroad. But we’ll go ahead and say it: the Furries’ ninth, Dark Days/Light Years, goes toe-to-toe with any Radiohead album you can name. Imagine if Thom Yorke had a sense of humour, a more enjoyable record collection, a sweeter voice and collectable Japanese toys. Any band that can sing a touching antiwar poem called ‘The Very Best Of Neil Diamond’ over a sinister, sticky-icky Persian sax riff is tapping into some deep wells of imagination.
The opening salvo sets the tone with molten, ridiculous wah-wah guitar gobs, while boinging bass and the Berlin wail of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ propel ‘Inaugural Trams’, a love song to both a girl and the future, based on German public transportation. ‘White Socks/Flip Flops’ makes a Steely Dan-style boogie sound sexy and heavy, while ‘Cardiff In The Sun’ slowly blooms into an orange, humming, numbing solar trance.
As always, vocalist Gruff Rhys softly sings effortlessly bright, melodic vocals, but the real mind tickler is the album’s production. This sounds absolutely massive, virtually three-dimensional. After obsessively sticking our head in Dark Days for a couple of weeks, going back to listen to other rock records felt like converting to Amish. So how the hell are Tom Jones and cheese on toast (little difference, really) still Wales’s biggest exports? Brent DiCrescenzo Available at www.7digital.com or to order in stores.
3/7 Sounds Of The Universe Fringes sculpted into stiff breaking waves that are big enough for a Smurf to surf; studded leather gear; a name that translates from the French into ‘fashion dispatch’ – all the signs suggested Depeche Mode wouldn’t clear three years, let alone three decades. But the remarkable legs of ’80s synth-pop shouldn’t be so surprising. This is a sound born of, and bettered by, digital technology. As phones shrink and dishwashers outsmart us, so too should the keyboard-and-computer compositions of this UK trio grow more ornate, dazzling, crisp and futuristic, no?
First, the good news: Album 12 is the group’s most texturally thrilling and entrancing. The bad news: That’s all that it is. Technically, Depeche Mode’s music has never sounded better. Sounds Of The Universe mesmerises, as if producer Ben Hillier (Blur, Elbow) shoved a multimillion-dollar NASA microphone right inside supernovas, nebulas, suns and alien atmospheres.
Synthesisers gurgle like gas, hiss like spewing steam, hum like swishing lightsabers, chitter like insectoid droids and ping like lost satellites. There’s playful electronic sci-fi noodling on display that traces well beyond the band’s playful roots, back to Louis and Bebe Barron’s eerie Forbidden Planet score from 1956.
The problem lies in the human spirit inhabiting these interstellar tracks. Dave Gahan’s gothic baritone saps any whimsy. ‘Peace’, with two Depeche Mode rarities – optimism and falsetto – and ‘Perfect’ match melodic hooks to video-arcade noises. Gahan’s junkie-gospel agony casts ugly shadows over everything else. This means that the cheeky instrumental is a highlight: in ‘Spacewalker’, no one can hear him scream. Brent DiCrescenzo Available at www.7digital.com and in stores.