Review of Zoom! The Best of 1995–2016 Album by Super Furry Animals

Like all good rock n' roll bio sheets, it's near impossible to tell where the reality and fantasy of the Super Furry Animals end and begin: their only truth is that somewhere between the techno tanks and erudite nationalism lurks the Id of a band who have gleefully ignored being drawn into anything that even vaguely resembles consensus.

Super Furry Animals Zoom! The Best of 1995–2016 Album

This hasn't precluded them from the recognisable commercial devices of touring albums as retrospectives and releasing greatest hits collections, but these two reissues prove that whilst they're not above the modern contrivances of the game, the idea of throwing a few b-sides together and calling it a deluxe package is simply not Yeti to them.

Unsurprisingly for a band with almost no visual footprint of their own, the Yetis - in animated form - are the cover stars of Zoom! A thirty seven track odyssey covering SFA in singles mode but also full of less familiar gems which journalist Simon Price appropriately describes as "Deep cuts" in his eloquent liner notes.

Compiled by former Flaming Lip Kliph Scurlock and the band themselves, what must have looked like an almost impossible job of sequencing has been approached with typical open-mindedness; the period synths of opener Slow Life for instance serve as a conscious reminder that a pre-fame SFA were once part sound system and that sticking to guitar-bass-drums from their perspective has often been just another outfit's else's problem.

As Price alludes to in his commentary however it's sometimes been perhaps too easy to mistake the band's epicurean spirit for audience baiting self indulgence: Zoom in it's quest for authenticity manages to provide a whiff of this (even with the innate charms of singer's Gruff Rhys' rumbling honey of a voice, there's the country psychedelia of Run Christian Run, Bing Bong's vocoded demi-lunacy). Is it heresy to speak of them in this way? Maybe. It's certainly difficult to know whether their creative pick and mix or their fan's passion for it came first, but whilst it's daunting to any novice listener, the uncertainty does unquestionably have an appeal.

Perhaps best to dip in and out then, embracing this panorama from the scratchy Britpop of Something 4 The Weekend, Golden Retriever's sumptuous psych throb, the Bacharachian schmaltz of Juxtaposed With U to The Piccolo Snare's intricate understatement. Fittingly, the whole shebang ends with the polemical The Man Just Don't Give A F*ck,  an essay that thematically at least becomes more obviously true with each passing year, and the song more prickly and riper with it.

In breakout terms the story began with Fuzzy Logic, their debut for Alan McGee's Zeitgeist-defining Creation label. Released during Britpop's death throes in the Spring of 1996, it was something of a miraculous conception: SFA had never been let loose in a proper studio before, whilst the inherent warmth and considered, provincial brio of their material went against the metropolitan grain of many of their contemporaries.

Now bolstered into a whopping two disc, fourty seven track anthology - the original release's dozen are expanded to twenty - there's an obvious chance of the unbridled energy and maverick playfulness being lost, but it's lovely sense of tension-but-not remains undimmed. At its heart are still the grand but familiar tones of Hangin' With Howard Marks, round housing opener Show Me Magic, Hometown Unicorn's kaleidoscopic melancholia and the string laden brio of If You Don't Want Me To Destroy You: If by comparison to their later work the whole exercise seems a little too straight, then it should be remembered that it sounded like almost nothing else around it at the time.

The rest of the material here consists of two sets of demos (The first commissioned at the behest of McGee, after which according to Rhys on first listen he pledged to make the band millionaires) and a set from 1996's Phoenix Festival. Whilst the latter is very much orthodox, the sessions reveal an outfit long beyond genesis and ready to make noise: although the earlier takes are (whisper it quietly) reminiscent musically of period Blur the later batch are entirely different beasts - from the tongue buried in cheek glam rock of For Now And Ever to a raw and more experimental The Man... the feel is of an outfit on the verge of creating their own  unique cosmoverse.

Two decades later this vision is more fully realised, although Rhys and co. have true to form remained mavericks throughout, selling enough records to convince us that there are still some forces for good in the face of suited corporate label hell. The SFA story is one in which art, identity and conscience are all in its meta; these albums are touchstones within that, and if any of those things matter to you, listening to them should be high up your things to do list.