Phantom Power (Epic)

Super Furry Animals 

Phantom Power (Epic)

Ten years and a British Invasion or two after their inception, the Super Furry Animals are still around, as eclectic, melodic and wonderfully cracked as ever, yet they remain inexplicably obscure on this side of the Atlantic. Maybe it's because they lack Oasis' surly edge, or Radiohead's apocalyptic self-importance or Coldplay's neutered delicacy. Then again, maybe it's just because nobody around here knows shit about shit.

Because with 2002's fantastic Rings Around the World and the newly released -- and even better -- Phantom Power, the Super Furry Animals have created back-to-back miracles, two impossibly entertaining, gorgeous pop albums with thoughtful, evocative and occasionally goofy lyrics that apply the personal to the political without being grating or sentimental. It's a balancing act, really, and these guys have extraordinary balance.

That's especially true on Phantom. For 53 minutes, the Cardiff, Wales, quintet drifts from drunken country to crunchy guitar rock to electronic psychedelia, all without sounding like dilettantes. On "The Undefeated," they even bring in steel drums without turning into UB40. And a track later, they cram all of the aforementioned sounds (sans the steel drums) into one seven-minute opus, the vaguely nihilistic "Slow Life," easily the most ambitious song on the disc, if not the most witheringly beautiful.

Lyrically, Phantom is no less ambitious. Singer Gruff Rhys appears fixated on world events, with more than a third of the album devoted, directly or indirectly, to Iraq. But his is a gentle stridency, and that makes Phantom an oddity: a winking, irresistibly hummable anti-war screed. Holy bombs make holy holes, he sings on "Venus and Serena," a paean to the protagonist's pet turtles. Even when the lyrics get venomous (You know you're digging to hell/Drowning in your oil wells) or dire (Have you ever seen the sea/Painted red by a bleeding army?), Rhys' warm croon softens them, lightens them, levitates them.

But whatever. Chances are, you've never heard the Super Furry Animals; maybe you've never even heard of them. That might be the only thing more astonishing than the band itself.

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