I dig Welsh Pride. An old friend from Wales mentioned that the English see them as the embarrassing uncle of the U.K. Maybe they’re just pissed because the Welsh are smart enough to still have their own language and produce some really great contemporary music. Welsh offerings are few and far between, although John Cale, the Alarm and the Manic Street Preachers have met with moderate success. But throw all bets on the table for the goofily-named Super Furry Animals to be the ones to make truly vital musical statements.
I was first smitten with SFA by their 1996 debut Fuzzy Logic, catchy and hyper-driven beat-infested pop music from the school of Brian Wilson, Suicide and ELO, all zoned out on ecstasy. Critics gave praise but SFA’s stint with the American label Epic didn’t last, which meant shelling out an extra ten bucks for an import. Their second release, Radiator, was worth every penny. The band finally scored a domestic deal with an indie label that produced two lukewarm releases, Guerilla and Mwng, where they seemed be screwing around and sounded less like a band and more of an experiment in techno.
Uninspired, I gave up. Then a light flickered from the U.K. press, who stated that SFA’s newest release Rings Around The World was their Exile On Main Street or Revolver. The problem was, their last American label had gone bankrupt, which means I had to once again shell out that extra ten bucks for the import.
So, were the British press full of shit? No. Is this their Revolver? Oh, it goes beyond that. Rings Around The World is perfection. SFA put their heads together and produced a phenomenal piece of work strong enough to distract from the over-appreciated Radiohead. The original vision is still intact, but add some Bacharach, Bee Gees, Silver Apples and Ennio Morricone. SFA modify these influences so tastefully and inconspicuously that they succeed in not re-treading that same safe ground. Each tune shines like a mini-epic, with affectionately biting social commentary: anger towards the greedy upper class (“Receptacle For The Respectable” and “Shoot Doris Day”), religion (“Run Christian Run”), disregard for the environment (“Rings Around The World”) and the current world state (“It’s Not The End Of The World”). This isn’t pacifism from SFA, it’s a directive, calling out the white-collar devils and taking no prisoners.
The music is a healthy bounce between brainy guitar rock, orchestrated flights into space, messy techno blowouts and a warped definition of easy listening music from AM radio’s past. Wise use of un-rock instruments, à la Pet Sounds, makes the listen addictive and unforgettable. And this time the public can avoid the extra import cost, since the album has just been released domestically on the Beggars Banquet label. To further push the experimental envelope, SFA separately concocted a DVD with fried-out graphics, animation, re-mixes and beautiful imagery to coincide with each tune, turning Rings Around The World into a conceptual masterpiece.
This is hands down the best European pop release in the past 10 years. It’s high time for this Welsh Invasion.
Let’s get one thing straight: the UK shouldn’t receive all the credit for spawning punk rock. Punk is a bastard from the NYC gutters and the industrial Great Lakes states, born out of the disillusionment, dementia and distrust in society that was the ’60s, but even more so out of dissatisfaction with the way society had homogenized everything in the ’70s. In fact, forget Sid and Johnny and start with Jim Morrison. It was Iggy Pop who caught a Doors performance as a youth and turned his ear and body to pure nihilism. Captain Beefheart and the Velvet Underground fed the absurd and avant leanings of proto-punk, with the added irritants of playing to piss people off and a dose of physical violence.
This new faceless genre didn’t need leaders or heroes—it needed destruction. And no other environment could make the culturally deprived crave destruction more than Cleveland, Ohio. Local bands Electric Eels, Mirrors, Devo, Dead Boys, Pere Ubu and Rocket From The Tombs all provided a snotty, nasty edge to their music well before the golden year of 1977. Yet in the mid-’70s, these Cleveland bands created almost no waves whatsoever. Gigs played fell on deaf ears. Recordings sat on shelves and collected dust. There was some fanfare in New York City, but it wasn’t enough to hold together a music career.
Rocket From The Tombs never really caught a break, but a few band members did go on to more illustrious things. Guitarist Gene Conner changed his name to Cheetah Chrome, cut his mane and formed the Dead Boys. Singer Crocus Behemoth dropped the moniker for his birth name of David Thomas to form the ground-breaking Pere Ubu. Guitarist and songwriter Peter Laughner pre-cursed Sid Vicious with the self-destructive habits that would land him a gravesite by the age of 26 and create a cultural legend. But these individual personalities were only a sideshow to the bombast that was the band.
RFTT’s music is both weirdness and rock, equal parts Alice Cooper, MC5, Stooges and the Velvet Underground: strangled, adolescent mouth-offs with guitar beatings and relentless rhythm, punctuated by a real shitty attitude. The Day the Earth Met... distills the attitude that punk was. The cruel irony is that this is possibly the first official RFTT release—27 years after the fact—yet it sounds as crucial as when it was first conceived. And what a fine archive it is. The recordings vary from practice tapes to live shows (for silent, distracted audiences) recorded on a portable unit capturing a cheap but full sound. You get the feeling that RFTT know they’re playing to an audience of no one interested, therefore upping the ante for their own crudity and outrageousness. With nothing to lose, these hoodlums created music with “fuck the world” written all over it. RFTT had an endless struggle in their time and the struggle itself translates to honesty. You can never beat honest music.