Bittering the Sweet, Reveling in the Surreal

Trippy Welsh dudes go pop, worship glam royalty

It's their knack for sounding contemporary while twisting vintage genres that's ranked Super Furry Animals among psychedelia's greatest post-Vietnam bands. So it's startling to hear them nail an even trickier feat: reviving early-'70s nostalgia for the early '60s. After two albums of mounting experimentation and declining sales, the greatest Welsh export since Tom Jones goes hook-happy on Hey Venus!, clinching the deal with "Run-Away," a breathtakingly precise flashback to Wizzard, the glam band fronted by former Move guitarist Roy Wood that racked up a string of ebullient U.K. singles, routinely gate-crashing Top of the Pops with a freak show not even Bowie could touch. Sporting a biker beard, teased troll hair, ridiculous tribal makeup, a wardrobe befitting a human Muppet, and a catalog of kinetic hits reaching back to psychedelia's first flowering, Wood was the original super furry animal. "Run-Away" pays tribute to his glam-goes-Spector phase with tragicomic poignancy. "This song is based on a true story, which would be fine if it wasn't autobiographical," declares singer Gruff Rhys as guitars buzz, drums crackle, and a glockenspiel tinkles with Wizzard-ly overdubbed abundance. He then sheds a river of tears not only for bad love abandoned, but also for bygone weirdos remembered.

The rest of Hey Venus! nearly matches its future single's delirium. There's a newfound depth of feeling in their eighth-album expertise that bitters the sweetness of Beach Boys tributes like "Show Your Hand." Even when the quintet returns to the whimsy of previous discs, there's an ache to their finesse of fun. That pain quietly erupts in "Suckers!", a power ballad lamenting the powerlessness felt by a world stunted by unnamed evil. It's the sole gray track on their most concise and color-saturated work yet, a rare burst of realism from a band that's finally mastered its surrealistic pillows of pop.

 
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