Meaning "mane" in Welsh, Mwng is the fourth studio album by the Super Furry Animals, released in May 2000 on their own Placid Casual label. More than anything else, this record is famous for being The One Where All the Songs Are in Welsh, but if this is the only thing you know about it, you're missing out.

The Furries' previous album had been the critically adored, genre-defying 22nd century techno-rock known to the world as Guerrilla. Released less than a year later, Mwng was its polar opposite in everything except quality. Naturally, it was hard to draw attention away from the fact that every lyric was sung in an obscure, often derided Celtic language that had been plucked only twenty years earlier from the jaws of extinction. The idea of a rock album in Welsh seemed almost as bizarre as the thought of Puff Daddy rapping in Navajo. But the music itself was of such a high quality that it was not only capable of surpassing the lyrical content, but actually drew on the fact that the average listener could have no idea what the band were singing.

Where Guerrilla had been in every way a modern record, Mwng drew on more rustic influences. At least one of the songs is a cheerful recreation of 60s pop, while the acoustic guitars and strings sound at times almost medieval. The production has a warm, home-made quality, and the mood of the songs is, for the most part, somewhat reserved in comparison to the previous album.

Tracklisting: (total run-time 40:31 min)

  1. Drygioni (drug-yoni) (1:23)
  2. Ymaelodi â'r Ymylon (uh-my-lor-di ah um-lon) (2:57)
  3. Y Gwyneb Iau (uh gwi-neb eye) (3:54)
  4. Dacw Hi (da-cu hee) (4:18)
  5. Nythod Cacwn (nuth-od cac-oon) (3:46)
  6. Pan D'dawr Wawr (pan thaur wow) (4:29)
  7. Ysbeidiau Heulog (us-bay-dee-eye hay-log) (2:51)
  8. Y Teimlad (uh tame-lad) (4:39)
  9. Sarn Helen (pronounced as written) (4:18)
  10. Gereddiau Dwfn (ge-ray-thi-eye duh-vn) / Mawrth Oer ar y Blaned Neifion (mouth oyre ar uh blan-ned nay-vi-on) (7:56)
Drygioni ("Badness", "Bad Drugness") is a misleading start to the album. It's basically a driving and slightly dissonant rock song about "Good versus evil, and a person's need for both" (according to Gruff Rhys). Most of the album doesn't really sound much like this.

Ymaelodi â'r Ymylon ("Joining the Periphery", "Banished to the Periphery") is almost a folk-rock song, with a harmonium in the introduction and a rise-and-fall chorus. Lyrically, it's apparently about taboos, and "friction in music", and may be drawn from the band's early experiences in which they were criticised by some Welsh listeners for casually mixing English- and- Welsh-language songs.

Y Gwyneb Iau ("Liverface", apparently a Welsh insult) is an interesting track. Lyrically it's about war, but the music really steals the show. The trumpets give it an almost jazzy feel, but the tune is so sad and captivating it melts your heart. Very different from anything on the previous albums.

Dacw Hi ("There She Is") is a song that Rhys wrote in 1987, about a teacher at his primary school. Far removed from the silliness and the modernity of many of their songs, this is a simple, touching indie song, played with absolutely honesty and soaring harmonies.

Nythod Cacwn ("Beehives") is, apparently, about drummer Daf Ieuan being chased by a swarm of bees on a beach, but sounds more serious than you might expect from that. It's sort of a bleak song, at least for the SFA. It also features singer Gruff Rhys' debut on drums, which hopefully he won't repeat.

Pan D'dwawr Wawr ("When Dawn Breaks") is another sad song. The lyrics are about the death of rural communities - for example (and these are Gruff Rhys' translations) "As dawn breaks / I'm an abandoned ruin / No sight or sound / Or bells upon the hour" ; "Cheapest rates / But I, penniless / Our spirited spine, evaporated". Musically it's quite exhilarating - there's a slow, sort of painful brass introduction, which suddenly gets carried along by urgent bass and drums.

Ysbeidiau Heulog ("Sunny Intervals") is a fun, cheerful pop song, the one with the 60s influence. It's got lots of cheesy harmonies; lyrically it's supposed to be about looking bad at a bad time which had some good moments.

Y Teimlad ("The Feeling") is a cover of a 1984 song by Welsh punks Datblygu. I haven't heard the original, but this interpretation is quite moving. I think it's a love song. It starts off acoustic, but drums and electrics come in later.

Sarn Helen (an old Roman road in Wales). This is perhaps the most "difficult" song on the album, in as much as that means anything. It's quite sort of dissonant, both in the electric and acoustic parts of it; it's not an infectious pop melody like Ysbeidiau Heulog.

Gwreiddiau Dwfn / Mawrth Oer ar y Blaned Neifion ("Deep Roots" / "Cold Mars on Neptune") is a song which fades into an instrumental. The song is apparently about "being rooted to a sad piece of land", with lyrics like "This is the location that we chose / To plant the deepest root / And this is the location that has the heaviest blood / Which threatens to drown us". Musically it's again reserved and rather melancholy. The instrumental is about "trying to go intergalactic at the end of the song and look down on the land we've just sung about", and it does sound like that, with a kind of musical culmination, crescendo, whatever you call it. It's definitely an album-closer. It is also the only SFA song to feature a stylophone.

I'd say Mwng is a vital part of the SFA story. It shows a kind of lyrical, rustic element to their music which wasn't always apparent before, even in their Welsh songs. And of course it's the Welshness of this record that grabbed all the headlines (and even a mention in the House of Commons). The truth is... drum roll... no, you don't need to understand the lyrics to enjoy the music. At least not this music. The tunes, the emotion, are enough to grab your attention and have you singing out loud even if, like me, you don't know a word of Welsh.

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