I know this is going to sound a bit churlish, but is it wrong to expect a very good band to really extend themselves? I ask because, for the past week or so, I’ve been playing the new Super Furry Animals album most days. It’s lovely, without a doubt. But for some reason, it leaves me fractionally disappointed – as if them coming up with another 11 fine songs is somehow not quite good enough.
“Hey Venus” is, I think, consciously unambitious. Rather than some kind of epic, genre-straddling, state-of-the-world address, it’s direct, catchy, guitar pop, economic in length (a swift 36 minutes). There are some opulent orchestral arrangements, but on songs like “Show Your Hand” even the French horn clarion calls sound jaunty rather than portentous.
Much here sounds like a small reaction to the leisurely excesses of the last SFA album, “Love Kraft”. The longest song is less than five minutes, and most are a minute or two shorter than that. There are certainly a couple of gorgeous, ambling ballads in the “Love Kraft” vein – notably “Suckers”, “Wolves” (a bit like “Run Christian Run”, now I think about it) and “Show Your Hand”, a sort of cosmic Bacharach trip. But the frazzled stomps that dominate here – “Neo Consumer”, “Into The Night”, “Baby Ate My Eightball” – mark a return to the simple punch of “Fuzzy Logic”, albeit with richer and more skilful instrumentation. There’s that curious take they have on glam back again, so that “Runaway” feels like something ersatz and Spectorised from about 1974 – like The Rubettes, as one of my colleagues pointed out the other day. Only good, obviously.
The opening “Gateway Song” is a clear indication of SFA’s group mindset right now: 45 seconds of joyful, dumb catchiness designed to get you hooked.
And it works, up to a point. Listening to “Hey Venus” is a deeply pleasurable experience, but maybe it’s a tiny bit undemanding. I don’t mean to go into some rant about how rock must have gravitas and be challenging for it to succeed: I don’t believe that. But there’s a nagging disappointment that a band with so many ideas should ostensibly be going over old ground.
Maybe, too, I feel it’s time for Super Furry Animals to really stretch themselves. We know they can write lush, playful, jingly pop songs and dreaming saturated ballads in their sleep, but we also know that they can do more than that: the countless live shows I’ve seen them play over the past decade have proved that time and time again.
Am I being too tough on them? Maybe: let me know what you think.