The band that keeps giving.

There seems to be a consensus that the Super Furry Animals have reached a plateau in their career and their days of jaw-dropping moments are behind them but if thats the case, it can only be because the boys have been one of the most consistent performers the UK has witnessed in the past two decades. Major mainstream recognition may have slipped by but their devoted fanbase is a testimony to their enduring, and endearing, qualities.

Opening with the linking track (at best) 'The Gateway Song', the Welsh wizards prove to be as unpredictable and contrary as ever but equally, the melodic wonderment positively pours from the first minute and the following track 'Run-Away' will dampen down any debate of a band being past their best. The song clocks in at under three minutes but like 'Receptacle for The Respectable' it makes you believe the track is much, much longer than its length would indicate. Musically, theres no comparison, 'Run-Away' is more Motown than metal and Gruff Rhy's vocals take the listener away on a journey that if Ronnie Spector, Dionne Warwick or Diana Ross performed at their peak, would have the critics lining up to lavish praise but its likely this track will walk on by the ears of many.

It seems as though its a record which finds the band in a more sedate mode, shorn of the previous punky thrash moments that still pepper their live sets and get the crowd hollering but what 'Hey Venus' lacks in throttle-grabbing moments, it delivers in cultured backing music and with as many singalong sections as you could hope for from the Super Furry Animals. There is still a solid upping of the tempo in the middle of the album, with 'Into The Night', offering not only the album of the title in its lyrics but influence of Indian instruments and a hard-rocking riff and strut throughout.

Anyone with concerns that the passage of time would minimise the bands whimsical side need only take a look at some of the track titles to have their fears negated. 'Noo Consumer', 'Baby Ate My Eightball' and 'Battersey Odyssey' are all a bit left-of-normal and the lyrical themes and one-liners remain as individual as ever. Perhaps this has been an element of the Furries never crashing into the mainstream world, the bands sense of humour and outlook on life has always been likely to turn off as many people as it turned on but theres been very little compromise throughout their career and it would be terrible if they started now.. The intro of 'Carbon Dating', recalling a cross between a Bavarian band and an Italian forecourt concerto with bells ringing would likely be a bit too bewildering for some folk but it seems right at ease here, even when the intro slides into a track that shuffles along at a slow-waltz pace. The best thing is that the band is probably at peace with their lack of million-sellers with 'Suckers' referencing the "suckers in the main-stream" amongst the many suckers in the world today.

In an age where band line-ups change as often as football team squads (should there be a transfer window for bands, or indeed, a Bosman equivalent allowing bands to trade members freely), its rare for an act to maintain a consistent formation, let alone a consistent (and vital) output. Radiohead seem to be held in the highest esteem with regards to these matters, and the praise they receive is fully deserved but the Super Furry Animals tend to be the act that is overlooked. This reviewer has never hidden his love and admiration of the Furries and at times its pleasing that they havent became a major stadium-rock band because its nice to have a band thats never sold-out or had major changes in their attitude but it would be nice for everyone to wak up one day and simultaneously realise how brilliant SFA are! Even for one day, a planet rocking to 'Ice Hockey Hair', 'Mario Man' or 'Calimero' would be such a better world to live in and 'Hey Venus' may not be the one album to make such an occasion happen but its another consistently great record that only adds to a catalogue that is already bursting with quality moments. We're still holding out for the full-on techno album that the climax of the bands live-set indicates they may have in them but as long as the Super Furry Animals remain around to keep making albums of such touching emotions and musical quality, they can do pretty much what they want.