3 May 2016 was a day that started out like many others. Then suddenly Radiohead released a new song after years of silence and then it wasn’t. Social Media lost it’s shit, heavy-weight broad sheet newspapers started work on articles about how the return of Radiohead was the return of ‘real’ music and how the mysterious LP9 was the most hotly anticipated release for years (or at least since the last hotly anticipated release) and generally everyone got into a bit of a tizzy.
What was somewhat overlooked in the Radiohead-love was that another veteran band had also announced some long-awaited new material that day, as psych-pop geniuses Super Furry Animals announced their first new single for six years.
Lines were drawn here in Backseat Mafia Towers. This was not a matter that could be settled by our traditional method of game of ping pong. Who was best? Radiohead, or Super Furry Animals?
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a write-off!
The genius of Radiohead:
I’m not here with beef on the Super Furrys; I have nothing against easily one of the best Welsh acts of all time. I’m merely here to argue that Radiohead is possibly the best band of all time.
Ah yes, Radiohead; Oxford bred, now world famous, artistic Gods, and still popular nearly 14 years after ‘Creep’ dropped in the UK. Throughout their career they’ve subverted every expectation, released nine stunning albums and never released a bad song. They’ve been covered by everyone from Frank Ocean to Hanson to Prince to Weezer. They released the seminal OK Computer in 1997, an album widely regarded as one of the best of all time, however any record of theirs could easily fall into the ‘classics’ category. They are nearly flawless.
But perhaps the main reason I love Radiohead is that they represent everything music should be: ever-changing, exciting and always willing to push the boundaries. Let’s take a stroll through their discography shall we?
While their debut, Pablo Honey, might not be their greatest release, it was an important step for the band, allowing them to bring out some brilliant songs, such as ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ and ‘Creep’. Their guitar-work song form was perfected on sophomore release The Bends, which brought in the melon collie of ‘High and Dry’ to the ethereal in ‘Planet Telex’ and the brilliant in ‘Just’. It tops just about every Britpop release when it comes to Nineties guitar work. But not just content with mastering Alternative Rock, Radiohead proceeded to give it a discontent and electronic spin on OK Computer, an album that brought more political discontent and sci-fi through songs like ‘Paranoid Android’. Then, in perhaps the most pivotal moment of their career, the band laid down their guitars and gave us Kid A and Amnesiac, two wildly diverse electronic and art rock records who’s atmosphere stretches from the dawn of the millennium to a post-9/11 world.
Going further into the 21st century, we’ve seen the band grow back into guitar rock with Hail to the Thief, while keeping their electronic influence in the background. Then they delved effortlessly into a sea of heartbreaking art pop with In Rainbows, a quagmire ambient with The King of Limbs, and more recently found themselves indulging in the cinematic with A Moon Shaped Pool. But as time goes on, Radiohead’s release methods have become almost as important as their music. It’s seem them refrain from releasing singles and music videos during the Kid A period, to that fateful ‘pay-what-you-want’ scheme when releasing In Rainbows. They have continued to revolutionise the industry within which they work, in some of the most eye popping stunts a musician can perform.
And when it comes to their music, you’d be hard pressed to find a great gel of musicians than the members of Radiohead. Each brings their own mantra to the table when it comes to creating a piece of music. Drummer Phil Selway’s sensibility can be heard through songs like ‘There There’ and ’15 Step’ where the percussion plays and instrumental part in the integrity of the song. His grooves lock in with that of bassist Colin Greenwood, a man who’s jazz influenced bass lines keep the songs together, and whose genius comes out when required (see ‘The National Anthem’ and ‘Nude’). His brother, Johnny, leads the way, not just in his lead guitar, but with his incredible orchestration, keyboard work and electronic glitches. The former of these he shares with Ed O’Brien, often the most understated member of the band, but who’s work adds the finishing touches to the band’s sound, often the icing on the cake.
Then we get to Thom Yorke, a man whose reputation precedes him. His tortured falsetto vocals have become a trademark for the band. They can be delicate, anguished, or full of detest. Thom Yorke wields his vocals like a weapon, to strike amazement, pity or heartbreak into your very soul.
And together, the band creates these songs; these fantastic, wonderful songs that can soundtrack a lifetime. ‘Creep’, ‘Optimistic’, ‘No Surprises’, ‘My Iron Lung’, ‘Reckoner’, ‘True Love Waits’… I could go on, there are so many classic songs out there just waiting to be passed from generation to generation. There’s something so incredibly moving in what this band does, something that cuts to the core, that is why they’re so important. Radiohead are more than just a band, they’re a way of life. – Andrew Noel
Why Super Furry Animals deserve more respect than you give them:
Over the next decade the children of my generation will start taking an interest in their parents music collections, so who do you think they’ll consider the really cool bands will be? It won’t be the big hitters whose songs will still be played on the radio, but those nearly men, those who despite having the talent, the material and a whole host of brilliant albums never quite got the respect they deserved at the time. They’ll be the equivalents of The Zombies or Love, bands who never got the respect they were really due, acts who were arguably more slyly creative than those that got played on the radio endlessly. I’d like to think that the constantly underestimated Supergrass would be one of them. In a perfect world Super Furry Animals would be the other.
Oddly overlooked when compiling any list of the truly great bands of the last quarter of a century, Super Furry Animals’ idiosyncratic brand of psychedelic pop has been thrilling their fans for over twenty years now. At first they were mistakenly lumped in with the Britpop movement, then they rapidly expanded beyond that sub-genre’s limitations without ever losing sight of the immutable truth that music’s overriding purpose is to entertain. Crushing angst-fuelled self-pity just isn’t Super Furry Animals’ style, instead they have run the wider gamut of emotion with seemingly boundless warmth, humour and creativity, ensuring they stand apart from those who rely too heavily on doom and gloom to get their message across.
Central to the enduring appeal of Super Furry Animals is their peerless way with a melody, something too often overlooked by those telling us why we should all be miserable. By demonstrating a lightness of touch wherever possible, rather than oppressive heavy handedness, Super Furry Animals have always ensured that the majority of their songs partnered a killer chorus with a winning melody, resulting in a songbook studded with tunes that are accessible without being disposable, something which the majority of acts that take themselves too seriously consider is beneath them. Much sort out for collaborations down the years, Gruff Rhys’ unmistakable rich and warm vocal tones go a long way to make any Super Furry Animals numbers he sings instantly recognisable, and while his solo albums have each had something to recommend them (Candylion is particularly splendid), it is when he has combined his efforts with his SFA bandmates that so much magic has been made. Almost impossible to emulate, Rhys can switch his vocals from heartstring-plucking melancholia, to rocking freak-out, to electronica distortion, without ever sounding like anyone else. Compare this to the identikit vocals of so many bands of the last twenty five years, and you start to realise just what a special talent he and the rest of the band are.
It is also worth noting is just how consistently great SFA’s albums have been down the years. Regardless of the vagaries of fortune, Super Furry Animals gave it their all. When Creation Records imploded shortly after the day-glo Guerilla, they quietly recorded the Welsh language Mwng, before signing to Epic for a trio of luxuriant sounding albums, then relocating to Rough Trade for their more recent releases. Sure, some albums have been more successful than others, and the individual may prefer certain albums (personally it took me years to appreciate Guerilla and Love Kraft), but when you consider the disparity in budget and style between some of their releases (try comparing the mega-budget Rings Around the World to the frugal Mwng), it’s nothing short shocking how consistent they are in terms of quality.
While there are acts that are not satisfied with being anything short of chin-strokingly intellectual, Super Furry Animals have forged their career being no less sophisticated or ambitious, but have remembered to maintain an element of fun in their career. Be it the artwork of Pete Fowler, the odd laugh-out-loud lyric, or the fact they regularly don yeti costumes on stage, Super Furry Animals have never lost sight of the fact that music should be there to enjoy. While the likes of Radiohead have elevated making their listeners miserable to an art form, for me personally, life’s just too short, so it’s Super Furry Animals who I turn to lift my spirits.
Trust me, the kids will prove us right. – Jon Bryan