Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Favourite Albums: Number 3: Super Furry Animals - Radiator

The two records that top the list of my favourite albums - The Stone Roses' debut and Nirvana's Nevermind - are amongst those that regularly feature in magazine polls to determine the greatest record of all time.

But the third album on my list rarely features, if at all. I seem to remember it appearing in Q's list of the best albums of the magazine's lifetime, and possibly in the best British albums ever. But it is by no means regarded by the Great British Public as one of the must-have records, a defining piece of art the equal of The Beatles', Pink Floyd's and Bob Dylan's masterpieces.

It should be.

Drawing comparisons between Super Furry Animals' second album - released in 1997 as the follow-up to Fuzzy Logic - and other records is difficult, as it contains so may varied influences that should be almost incompatible.

There are nods to 70s prog rock, with electric pianos, mellotrones and string sections. There are sections of buzzsaw guitar work, referencing punk's finest. There are short bursts of techno beats welded with four-part harmonies and horn sections.

But most of all, there are the songs. I've said before that Gruff Rhys is one of my favourite lyricists, a wayward genius who has never been given the recognition his abilities so richly deserve.

Comparing Radiator to Fuzzy Logic is almost akin to comparing Sgt Pepper with Help! - unquestionably the same band, but elevated to a different plane entirely.

The album is, on first listen, a confusing hotch-potch that sounds as though it will last forever - yet it clocks in at well under an hour (I think it's nearer 45 mins, if that, but don't have it to hand to check at the moment).

And despite sounding at times as though it's a prog epic, it's packed with blisteringly brilliant singles - The International Language of Screaming, Demons, She's Got Spies, Play It Cool and Hermann Loves Pauline.

The topics covered across the songs are as off-the-wall as they are varied - Che Guevara's asthma; Marie Curie; the mythical Puerto Rican goat-eating monster chupacabras; Sierra Leon's Valentine Strasser, who became the world's youngest head of state when he staged a military coup; and Albert Einstein's parents (the titular Hermann and Pauline).

And amongst all the chaos, the Welsh language song Torra Fy Ngwallt Yn Hir, the electronic sub-bass and the screaming over the fade-out to The International Language of Screaming, there are subtle nuances that continue to reveal themselves 12 years after the record was released. There are no real gaps between the songs, though at times the interludes are audible only on headphones or with the volume set high on the stereo. And in these interludes are lost melodies, miniature vignettes added to ensure that Radiator stands head and shoulders above its fellow post-Britpop records.

Words can scarcely do this record justice. The band have never come close to matching it and, in my opinion, only two bands have ever bettered it (and The Beatles aren't one of them).

Videos can't really catpure the essence of the album, but here's an attempt with the video for the majestic Demons.

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