I’m of that age when albums that I loved as a teenager and shaped who I am today are now having their 20 year anniversaries. Yes, I am old. Radiohead’s OK Computer, Therapy?’s Troublegum, etc, etc. I remember each one coming out vividly and now it’s Radiator by the Super Furry Animals reaching that milestone.
Music is an interesting beast in that great albums or bands open a door to your past where just hearing a particular song or looking at the cover brings a world of nostalgia and memory flooding back. For me, seeing October Rust by Type O Negative makes me remember a high school girlfriend, while Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar reminds me of a gothy world of mistakes.
Radiator is an empty book for me: I missed out on a lot of good music in the 90s (please refer to “gothic mistakes” above) and while I absolutely remember this album coming out I never heard it. What I do remember is the Ice Hockey Hair EP. I remember this being in the cd collection of the girl I went onto marry (who had, and still has, far better musical taste than me). In this special anniversary edition the entire Ice Hockey Hair EP is included along with a goldmine of additional content. Just seeing the cover again in the album’s inlay brought so much back before I even put the cd on. The track Smokin’ lays its catchy singalong chorus over a particularly smoking (sorry) bass and funk guitar, then there’s the Moon Safari-esque vocoded vocals of Ice Hockey Hair itself, there is just a lot to love here. The first cd ends with their glorious Smiths cover of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. It’s everything you could possibly want and continues to cement my (frankly unpopular) opinion that every Smith cover is better than the Smiths original. It’s electronic, instrumental, hugely upbeat and just gloriously irreverent.
Radiator itself is a remastered revelation: a sublimely happy record that just beams positivity like warm rays of sunshine, and God knows, we need some of that right now. Something I never thought of at the time but with hindsight dawns on me now is that they’re like a Welsh Beach Boys – packed with as much wonderful ingenuity but just with a lot more synthesizer zaniness.
What constantly delights you listening to Radiator is hearing how they captured the raucous glee that the band are all having making it and how their no-holds-barred approach of throwing everything into the mixing pot lets songs bubble over with creative imagination. Songs warp inside out, stuttering from catchy bubblegum pop into Radiohead-esque minimalism into explosive guitar rock psychedelia – sometimes all within the same song. The International Language of Screaming, aside from being an album stand out, manages to incorporate screaming into its melody in the way you wish most of those pop-punk bands that were around at the same time had. The second cd contains a new collection of rare tracks entitled “Clarity Just Confuses Me” and a recording session from 1996 which provide a fascinating look at original demo versions for the Radiator album. While the demo sessions are good they are probably more interesting to long time fans while the rare song collection doesn’t have a single dud track and is a enjoyable companion piece to Radiator showcasing the breadth of styles and sounds they were exploring. My favourite, nO.K (Frosty Night In Gothenburg), is a hilarious parody of Good Enough by Dodgy in the style of Type O Negative. No, I couldn’t believe it either.
While I can’t say I’m the gatekeeper of music culture, what personally rang out loud with Radiator was how much of a classic album it sounds today. I can see it sitting equally alongside albums like Blonde on Blonde, Pet Sounds or Hunky Dory in people’s music collections in the future, if it doesn’t already.
The 20th Anniversary Album Re-issue of The Super Furry Animal’s Radiator is released on 28th July by BMG.