Mwng remains an oddity in Welsh art-rock group Super Furry Animals’ catalogue. The reexamination of the album that is prompted by its 2015 reissue further cements Mwng as an almost non-canonical entry in the band’s increasingly high-tech sequence of pop records it released during in the late ‘90s and the early ‘00s. But what Mwng does better than any other Furries album is approximating what the band might sound like when the microphones aren’t on, when they put away the glow-in-the-dark jumpsuits and bright blue tank. Although Super Furry Animals’ wacky technicolor image is essential in understanding their sound, Mwng’s no-frills approach, completed by frequent collaborator Pete Fowler’s unusually stark white cover, made for a refreshing change of pace at the time of its release.
Mwng’s reception of relative indifference from some fans may have had less to do with its unpronounceable titles and Welsh-language lyrics than previously thought, and more to do with releasing such a shaggy, subdued record between what are arguably the band’s two most popular and most produced records: the candy-coated techno-punk of Guerilla and the ultra-decadent pop-pastiche of Rings Around the World. If the group had told fans upon Mwng’s release that it was a recently unearthed collection of early demos as a opposed to a fresh album, I not only suspect people would have believed them, but perhaps the music would have been received with more enthusiasm. Whatever the case may be, its reception does nothing to detract from the typically stellar quality of frontman Gruff Rhys’ songs.
Like its production, Mwng’s songs are uncharacteristically low-key. Rhys has never sounded as introspective as he does on tracks like the medieval folk of “Pan Daw’r Wawr” or the Bacharach homage of “Y Gwyneb Iau”. It’s a bit of a relief to hear the guy that, a few years prior to Mwng, had shrieked like a mad-man about French bread, raged about how the man “don’t give a fuck about anybody else”, and sang about ice hockey mullets into a vocoder, finally get a little more personal. In interviews related to the record, Rhys explains that these songs are about his personal life, the death of his father, and his childhood, subjects that he maybe never felt comfortable enough about to sing them in English. (This record is the Furries’ lone LP entirely in Welsh.)
That said, Mwng‘s language barrier for non-Welsh speakers won’t stop Super Furry Animals fans from enjoying the group’s uncanny knack for quirky melodies and punky anthems. “Ysbeidiau Heulog” is a delightfully skronky slice of garage rock that rightfully became a staple of their live act, while “Dacw Hi” anticipates the Furries’ future excursions into country-rock with a casual, pastoral trot and twangy guitars.
In the years following its release, Mwng’s reputation has skyrocketed among music critics, the NME going as far as calling it the group’s best record. While the posthumous praise for Mwng may be well-intentioned, citing this album as their crowning achievement does a major disservice to the albums that bookend it, Rings and Guerilla, two records of remarkable and rarely-equaled craftsmanship. Still, the new reissue of Mwng, complete with an extra disc of alternate takes and live versions, is more than welcome, and it gives fans another chance to enjoy a valuable and essential addition to the Super Furry Animals discography.