Gruff Rhys and his band, Super Furry Animals, have rocked my world since 1996 when they released one of the most magnificent début albums of all time, “Fuzzy Logic”, and they, to my astonishment, managed to surpass their stellar first album several times with some truly remarkable, wildly creative pieces of work. I have to confess, however, that I’m not an uncritical fan and I haven’t loved everything that the Super Furries or Gruff have released (Neon Neon left me cold, for example), just a great deal of it. However, it is albums like “American Interior” that reward the loyal fan, as it is, in my opinion, the best album that Gruff has been involved with since SFA’s “Hey Venus!” back in 2007 and his greatest solo achievement to date. Based on the life of John Evans, a Welsh explorer who mapped the Missouri River in the late 18th century in an unsuccessful search for a lost, Welsh-speaking American tribe, Rhys has written and released a beautifully rich, varied album full of diverse styles and mostly very listenable, enjoyable songs which has the feel of Super Furry Animals throughout much of it. “American Interior” is not just an album, either, there’s a film, an app and a book too. If this multimedia experience intrigues you, there is plenty to discover about this project, but for the sake of this review, the album is the focal point.
“American Interior” has inventiveness and artistry in absolute abundance. The title track really is a work of sheer beauty, a truly magnificent composition embellished with strings, setting the scene for the widescreen nature of the album perfectly. There is an immediate change of mood as “100 Unread Messages” is a joyfully performed, comedic piece with more key changes squeezed into one song than most artists have in an entire album. “The Whether (Or Not)” is a delightfully nutty piece which has the hint of a country song peeking through on occasions, a touch of saxophone-drenched glam rock stomp and some inspired time changes to boot. Electric piano and drum beats underpin the sumptuous “The Last Conquistador” but sadly “Lost Tribes” is unremarkable and proves to be the first disappointment of the album. “Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)” doesn’t disappoint, though, being a moderate tempo canter augmented by cascading pianos and lush strings, building up to a rather thrilling chase to the end.
The prize for strangest track has to go to “Allweddellau Allweddol”, which really isn’t the track you want to play to somebody if you want to demonstrate how good the album is; nearly all of my family at one point have independently asked me “What on earth is this?” or words of a similar nature. It’s a Welsh language song based on a Native American chant, apparently, but I’ll have to take his word for it. “The Swamp” is a really good song well hidden behind an over-busy bass and an annoyingly scratchy electronic beat. Just when the album is starting to grate a little, along comes the terrific “Iolo” which sounds like the theme tune to a rather exciting western. “Walk Into The Wilderness” is another big, classic piano ballad that Super Furry Animals fans will absolutely lap up, as they will the excellent pedal-steel enriched “Year Of The Dog/Tiger’s Tale”, without a doubt one of the finest moments on the album and a perfect way to end an excellent piece of work. All-in-all, the great moments far outweigh the times when the eccentricity of the songs outstay their welcome and I believe that Gruff Rhys has delivered his finest solo work to date, exceeding even some of the albums he made with his Super Furry band mates. “American Interior” is rather bonkers at times, but sometimes it’s nothing short of magnificent and the bizarre combination of the grandiose and insane is approaching a work of flawed genius.
Gruff Rhys’ “American Interior” is out now on Turnstile Records, along with a book, an app and a film to accompany the project.