Super Furry Animals

Songbook: The Singles, Vol. 1

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It could be argued that Super Furry Animals were the great British band of the late '90s, boasting bright, zippy tunes that put Blur to shame while incorporating electronica more seamlessly than Radiohead, but since the Welsh quintet cheerfully traveled outside the mainstream -- a byproduct of which was having very few of their albums appearing on both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously -- they were always a cult band. Yet it wasn't for a lack of terrific songs, as Songbook, Vol. 1: The Singles amply illustrates. At their peak, SFA had a sense of fearlessness, playing lush psychedelia with the reckless abandon of punk. Their songs were classically structured, but the production and performances were wholly modern, embracing the cut-n-paste collages of electronica and the knowing, nervy eclecticism of indie rock. As the calendar turned to the new millennium the group streamlined their sound, favoring sensuality to careening, free-form pop. They still made good records -- always highlighted by excellent singles -- but that sense of boundless possibility that made their first four LPs so thrilling was tamed. That shift in tone is apparent on Songbook, Vol. 1, but the album is regrettably not sequenced chronologically, so it's not possible to hear the band evolve over the years -- and with music that's this restless, that's a necessity. That's the only flaw on this otherwise superb collection that contains all 21 of the group's singles, including such non-LP masterpieces as the gorgeous "Ice Hockey Hair" and the still-invigorating ethereal protest anthem "The Man Don't Give a F*ck." Even if the album would have made more sense told chronologically, the individual songs are still wondrous, and it's nice to have them all collected together -- particularly for listeners who have never had a chance to be part of the cult, and are looking for a way to become acquainted with this terrific, unique band.

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