Super Furry Animals frontman takes satirical look at America on ‘Babelsberg’
In the '90s, Super Furry Animals was Brit-pop's crazy, irreverent little cousin, injecting the UK scene with political activism, artsy theatrics and super-catchy melodies. Gruff Rhys, who came from the Creation Records band Emily, was (and still is) the leader of the Welsh five-piece.
Rhys' solo work has often taken on a staid vibe, and in that context his Leonard Cohen-esque voice is more of an acquired taste. But the songwriter's ambitions are no less grand when he's on his own. Several years ago, Rhys traced the footsteps of John Evans, a Welsh explorer from the late 1700s who embarked on a journey of North America to find a tribe of Native Americans who supposedly descended from a Welsh prince and spoke Welsh. Rhys made a 2014 documentary, “American Interior,” and a companion album of the same name with songs inspired by Evans' story (plus a book and a mobile app).
This year, Rhys released Babelsberg, a satire-strewn album that isn't what it at first appears to be. Sweeping string arrangements clothe many of the songs, but leadoff track “Frontier Man” isn't an Americana-styled homage to the Daniel Boone archetype. Rhys is lampooning the modern-day, bastardized, political version of that idea. “On the frontier of delusion I'm your foremost frontier man,” he sings. (Safe bet)