Super Furry Animals

Phantom Power

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, and 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 none of those things. 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 either 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 quintet drifts from drunken country to Abbey Road­ inspired harmonizing 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 (bless them). 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.


Earlimart and the Super Furry Animals open for Grandaddy

Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 17-18, at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20



The Fillmore, 1805 Geary (at Fillmore), S.F.

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Lyrically, Phantom is no less ambitious. Singer Gruff Rhys appears fixated on world events, with more than a third of the album directly or indirectly devoted to Iraq. But his is a gentle stridency, and that makes Phantoman 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 may be the only thing more astonishing than the band itself.

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