Super Furry Animals
One of the odder incidents in rock history would be the story of Mwng, The story goes as such: the Welsh group’s modest success over the last half of the 1990s led them to go all-in for their third album, an attempt at mainstream success. Guerrilla was a fine record, but the hard work and effort that they had invested was not rewarded, as the album failed to make the impact they had hoped for. Frustrated, they decided that their next record would be an all-Welsh album; after all, they logically deduced, what had they to lose? They’d played around with their native tongue on B-sides; this time, they’d give the finger to the critics and the world.
But a funny thing happened—when Mwng was released, it was successful; it charted in the top twenty, and was critically lauded as a brilliant, enjoyable record; it was their best-selling record up to that time, and it remains the best-selling Welsh-language album of all time. Fifteen years later, Domino has reissued the record in expanded format. Not only does it include the Mwng album, it also includes b-sides and bonus tracks that were added to the US edition (which was called Mwng Bach), as well as a live show and Peel session from that era.
As lead singer Gruff Rhys is singing entirely in Welsh—a language unknown to me (and countless other fans, I’m sure)—it’s impossible to fully appreciate what’s going on lyric-wise. That’s a moot point, though, as one need not understand the language to appreciate the superior songwriting on Mwng As one listens, the words start to blend into its own sweet, seductive melody, and the foreign tongue starts to become amazingly, oddly familiar, intoxicating—especially considering that their use of Welsh in the lyrics isn’t enhanced by attempting to make traditional-sounding Welsh music. They’re sticking to melodies and sounds that they know—only the language has changed. “Dacw Hi” and “Drygioni” are exciting, enjoyable numbers that fit in sonically with their previous work, while “Y Gwyneb Iau” (“This is a song about people’s faces hanging off of their heads,” Rhys declares before performing it on one of the album’s bonus tracks), “Ysbeidiau Heulog,” and “Trons Mr. Urdd” hint at the groovy, futuristic retro pop of Mwng’s follow-up, the excellent, career-defining Rings Around The World.
As an English speaker, it’s so easy to become complacent with music that is performed in my native tongue, but Mwng is a wonderful listening experience both in spite of and because of the language barrier. It’s understandable why it was an odd hit fifteen years ago, and it’s equally understandable why it is being celebrated fifteen years later—it’s simply an exciting work of art.