Twenty years on, Super Furry Animals’ third LP, ‘Guerrilla’ seems, appears and sounds more prescient now than it did then. And will again.
Following 1996’s debut-smash on then cash-cow label Creation, the King Crimson-cheeked, techno-traced ‘Fuzzy Logic’ with its (c)overt lyricism concerning such topics as alien abduction, Howard Marks’ smokin’-shapeshifting and glorious Welsh Valley’s inflected odes to union and community that struck chords at home and abroad.
1997’s ‘Radiator’ saw the band cement their place with(in) the pop firmament: always a cut above the also-ran opportunism of the New Labour culture-grab ‘Britpop’ © when it came to 1999, SFA sought to articulate their millennium bug(bears) via coded and recoded hopes and fears, at once in linage with their output to date yet also distant enough to retain their avant gar(d)age properties. Always looking somewhere, never nowhere.
This release saw the group anticipate the forthcoming new 1000 year timezone with its Marshall McLuhanesque panoptic satellite/smartphone surveillance warnings, a steadfast belief in auto-didacticism (‘The Teacher’) allied to their particular poetical knack for laidback, love songs and freakout breakouts. Literate without ever being literal,
‘Check it out’ proffers the sound of the mind madly mulling things over, indigenous, homogenous, erogenous, folk-pickings, the Rough Mix adding a touch of Morricone menace with electro-breakbeating.
‘Do or Die’ and ‘Night Vision’ epitomise SFA at their most chart-(un)friendly, persuasive power-pop-punk, at once subversive and recursive, frenetic and kinetic.
As good as love song about things changing for the better (or worse) ‘The Turning Tide’ heart-pleadingly implores ‘we’re living in a world of quicksand, castles on the keep, still waiting under siege’ which highlights the fragility of structures, the perception deceptions allayed by autocracy and the temptation to allow yourself to be swept away by current(s). The demo for ‘Hand in Hand’ on CD2 is another ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ anthem with a ‘we could break their command’. Still could. And should.
Number 11 chart hit ‘Northern Lights’ exudes the band’s outernational optics, a trip-tropicalia travelogue that chimes today with the climes worries: weather (sic) you agree …or not.
The forecasting, portentous ‘Wherever I lay my phone (that’s my home)’ assiduously predicted the slavish servitude that (too) many people have with their palm-computers. In twenty years this ability to phone others has mutated into a cocooned existence in the guise of connectivity, the group’s techno-roots/routes in panoramic evidence, a Black Mirror horrorshow you can dance to. The cover art by Pete Fowler (his cartoon creations as fundamental in SFA’s aesthetic) shows a one-eyed octopus (the all-seeing eye a recurrent feature throughout) with a keypad on its forehead, a nod and a knowing wink to the many tentacled traps latent in technology’s ‘freeing’ libertarianism, its silicon-trick.
Simplicity as complexity, ‘Somethings come from nothing’ is a six-minute (hu)mantra, a simple chant that contains the meaning(s) of existence. ‘The Teacher’ is the autodidact’s guidebook: ‘when I come home from school I’m gonna start to think’ a DIY call to create, germinate and articulate, an anti-educational education. ‘Fire in my heart’ adroitly captures the intensity of knowing ‘their’ the ‘one’ culminating in an outbreak of aortic arson, someone call the cool aid-brigade.
Ending on ‘Keep the cosmic trigger happy’ a glam-stomp acknowledgment to the stars above, the realisation that respecting the galaxy’s ways is the true path to enlightenment.
And what of the ‘extras’? Demos, sketches, silhouettes and outlines that illustrate the craftsmanship and foresight-seeing that this album contains and retains. ‘John Spex’ sounds like fellow-Celts The Beta Band’s own forays into psyche-dialecticism, ‘Cowboy’ is a masterful melancholic showcase. A particular standout is a ten-minute ‘Wherever I lay my phone (that’s my home): even more nightmarish with a carousel of terrorscaping.
B-sides (always one of those bands who’s throwaways outshine most bands’ endeavours) ‘Rabid Dog’s more saliva-slop than biting poison, ‘This, that and the other’s’ meditative meanderings a pyschic sedative.
Dormant since 2010 apart from 2016’s Welsh football jamboree release ‘Bing Bong’ their absence speaks volumes, their presence here a reminded sound of ominous promise and eternal emotion oceans.
As Creation honcho Alan McGee writes in the sleeve notes, ‘Best band ever form Wales. They should reform and save us from boredom’.
As the band advocate: ‘Non-violent, direct action’, it’s all here in glorious techni-splendour.