A couple of weeks ago someone posted a question about the SFA in a classic or dud kind of way on I Love Music. I was a bit late to respond and be part of the dialogue – but coming across their last album on cassette this morning prompted me to think clearly on the subject.

Let’s start with an admission. I own almost everything that they have released. I do not own their B-Sides album because I own most of the singles. So this is pretty partisan. Not so much a review as a “what I like about them”. In the end that boils down to idiosyncrasy. From glitter band stomps to prog rock noodlings – from short, sharp pop thrills to calypso tinged singalongs – an album by the Super Furry Animals is never dull. Of course artistic dilettantism is often the mother of lack of invention – pastiches for the sake of them. Which is where SFA manage to break the mould. They cannot pastiche to save their lives – they can do a calypso beat but it will be on their terms. They are not pretending to be from the West Indies, they are Welsh people playing calypso (or whatever).

This brings us to Mwng – their all Welsh album. Of course I do not understand a word of it – which helps to clarify the appeal of the band. To be fair, their lyrics have always been on the whimsical side of pointless. And I cannot say that I have not been entertained by the lyrical content of tracks like “The International Language Of Screaming” or “Hometown Unicorn”. Its just quite plain that I do not just listen for the puerile rush of hearing a song about Albert Einstein’s parents. (It’s clear that Tanya could also have a field day with imaginary SFA songs too). It also has to be said that Gruf does not have the best or strongest of singing voices. Possibly uniquely in pop he sings in a strong Welsh accent even when he sings in English. This coupled with a lack of range makes at least the vocals sound pretty similar. Nevertheless the vocal line is pretty irrelevant to why I like them – and from the context of another sound in their arsenal it makes a lot more sense.

I remember an interview with the band in their early days when they talked about using sound, as opposed to music. I think that is a bit simplistic, but their aim was to construct their records much like dance records – to look for the perfect sounds rather than the song as a whole. While I do not think they succeed in doing this, I think the attempt has created a working ethos where the sound is more important than the tune. Luckily they are rather adept at putting these sounds into tunes. There may be little new or ground-breaking in what they produce – refernce points are firmly rooted in the history of pop – but it does not sound like anything else.

So back to Mwng. A more acoustic, folkie effort – perhaps to match the back to their roots language change. It is foolish to second guess, just as I am completely unaware what the songs are actually about (translations are available on the internet but I rather like it like this). Parts feel like Neil Young hitting big balls production Pink Floyd – and I know how terrible that appears but the key point is the actual sounds. Relatively low key, it nevertheless is beautifully crafted. Not to say there aren’t moments of fizzy pop loudness – there is a kind of “God – Show Me Magic” update which would wake you if the general downbeat nature of the album had lulled you to sleep.

In the end, the SFA could be underrated because of their whimsy. I think they may suffer from a similar problem that Madness did in the early eighties. Most of their column inches come from their stunts rather than their music – which they themselves are loathe to talk up. SFA do not act like a pop or rock band, but still do something interesting so they seem to stand on the edge of any scene. They have lasted to long to be part of any Welsh, or Britrock scene anyway. In the end there is a sound, and a use of sound you either get or you don’t. They are not a band I would ever dream of recommending to others therefore, and certainly buying an all Welsh album by them on my bidding would not increase my stock. In the context of their career though, and as a lovely record in its own right, Mwng does me nicely.

(Hopefully you will allow me the benefit of the doubt here on the lines that you should never review a record you like. I promise to never do it again.)