Review by Adam Pain
Recommended – 4 out of 5
Get your copy of Rise of the Super Furry Animals
I’d never really got into the Super Furry Animals. It’s not that I didn’t like the music – on the contrary, much of the material I have heard over the years always struck me as being both visceral and a little bit bonkers; one of my all time favourite combinations – more that I’d never found the right activities for them to become the soundtrack to. SFA were always a band I had a respectful admiration for, but had never invested enough time to truly become a fan.
So, when the opportunity arose to review this biography, ‘Rise of the Super Furry Animals‘ written by music journalist Ric Rawlins, I was intrigued to see if he could encourage me to dip into the band’s back catalogue with some of the enthusiasm that had initially grabbed me on hearing the single ‘The International Language of Screaming’ back in my college days. What I wasn’t expecting was a whirlwind through the band’s history, written with the sardonic wit, snappy dialogue and dramatic hyperbole of a writer having a total blast.
There is something decidedly filmic about the book. I suspect that hardcore fans might be a little underwhelmed by its lack of minutiae and statistics, but it is precisely this casual tone that kept me engaged throughout. It’s a biography written with storyline at its core. The book doesn’t let dry, cold facts get in the way of a yarn. In fairness, the author makes this pretty clear in the notes at the beginning of the book; this really isn’t meant to be a reverential or academic tome.
A great deal of the SFA story I didn’t know. I genuinely didn’t appreciate how idiosyncratic the band are. I never knew that actor Rhys Ifans was the original vocalist, nor what an irrepressible scamp he is purported to be. The story of the band’s Columbian trip to film the single ‘Demons’ is a highlight that sums up the tone of the book, perfectly capturing the glorious madness that seems to have encircled the band from the beginning.
My only feeling is that, at times, Rawlins’s instinct for a story and penchant for dialogue encourages him to gloss over a few too many of the finer details. It’s a book that only just breaks the 200-page mark and, whilst eminently readable, lacks the depth and cultural analysis that paints a truly accurate picture of a seminal band’s context. But it’s a balancing act – because this book is so much fun. That’s not something you can often say about biographies. I’ve read too many that have enlightened me without ever threatening to entertain. It’s refreshing to read a book that zips along at breakneck speed, even if the central characters get a bit blurry as a direct result.
The book doesn’t tell us the whole story. There is quite clearly a great deal more to tell – and I suspect SFA fans will be hoping for a biography to come along that does a more exhaustive job of cataloguing the work of a band with such a rare creative vision and influence. But for a casual listener, who’s never really found the time nor opportunity to dive into the band’s deep end, this is a readable, colourful and slightly manic book, that captures something glorious about the band’s creative energy. The book inspired me to go back and discover a great deal of the music. Music that I hadn’t ever given enough time to seep into my subconscious. Music that has become the perfect soundtrack to lucid dreams and wild-armed cookery. This book has helped me to become a fan. I cannot think of a better compliment for the biography than that.