"What is this s**t?” Those four words were the only ones used in a celebrated Rolling Stone review of Bob Dylan's 1971 album Self Portrait. The author, Greil Marcus, was perhaps the leading music critic of his day, famed for his lengthy, considered reviews. But Self Portrait threw him.
Those same words were uttered to me by a friend halfway through listening to the new album from the finest band to ever emerge from Wales. My mate is a Super Furry Animals fan — and has been from day one — but their new songs just weren't doing anything for him.
Having lived with Dark Days/Light Years for some time now, this SFA fan isn't much happier either. Nine albums into their career and Gruff Rhys and friends have delivered a damp squib.
Second track, Mt, sums up its mix of creative bankruptcy and general sense of irritation. Over a sludgy, stoner-rock drone, Rhys mumbles the following words: “I wasn't looking for a mountain/There was the mountain/It was a big fucking mountain/So I climbed the mountain/It was no ordinary mountain/It was a strange looking mountain.” Getting the drift?
While SFA have never been strangers to the ridiculous, their sonic inventiveness has more than compensated. For too much of this album, however, they're running on empty. There's a Led Zep guitar here, a Grateful Dead moment there, but it doesn't hang together in the way that albums such as 2001's Rings Around The World did.
Even one of the better songs, Imperial Trams, runs out of steam. Franz Ferdinand's Nick McCarthy is drafted in to provide a spoken-worded contribution auf Deutsch, and he's certainly been swotting up on his Kraftwerk collection. But it feels superfluous to what is otherwise the sort of summery pop song they used to churn out in their sleep.
Some of the tracks are growers. Despite its self-indulgent opening, Crazy Naked Girls improves on repeat listen and the Welsh-language Lliwaiau Llachar wouldn't have been out of place on their underrated Mwng album.
Ultimately, though, there's a feeling of this album being dashed off quickly without too much regard to quality control. When one thinks of the exuberant excellence of Rhys' Neon Neon side project, Dark Days/Light Years feels very flaccid by comparison.
Burn it: Imperial Trams