Sadness Sets Me Free is the 25th album Gruff Rhys has been involved in during his 35 years of creating music. Those stats alone take prolific to a whole other level. When it comes to Gruff it is not just the numbers, it is the boundaries that he breaks through, it is the creativity, his passion for music, trying something different, the influence he has had on other musicians and the lives he has changed. I am sure he won’t see himself as a life changer, but he is. For many in Wales in particular Super Furry Animals were the start of everything, they broke down so many doors, reimagined what pop music should sound like and led the way for hundreds of other bands to follow.
Thirty five years later to have an album in Sadness Sets Me Free that can certainly be held as one of his greats, shows that Gruff is not a man to stand still. He is a song writer who takes inspiration from the world around him, captures everyday life and emotions and wraps all this up in a collection of the most beautiful and hopeful pop songs you are likely to hear all year. Lets take Bad Friend as a starting point, I could attempt to write a thesis on how perfect this song is. I first heard this song on the radio and have not stopped thinking about it ever since. It is a song that has captured so many feelings I have had myself over the last decade. When you reach a certain point of life and have other commitments friendships drift without even realising it. Gruff has captured all of that and more in such an honest reflection on how it feels to let friendships drift “Though I can’t promise you / Every hour of every day / I need to feed the kids / And take them to the park to play / They say its impossible / To be everything to everyone”. Gruff goes on to make us realise that even though friendships drift we can still be there for each other when needed and “maybe bad friends are still friends”. The melodies and the production throughout the song are also second to none. I also need to mention the humour in Bad Friends which will be sure to bring a smile to your face “You know I’m as reliable / As asking a seal to deliver the post / Or a random pokemon to remember the number of your phone”
Another thing that jumps out on this album is how much Gruff seems to be enjoying himself. The title track which opens the album comes at us with some very cheerful melodies, slide guitars, harmonies that will make you sway and you can almost hear Gruff smile as the song’s subject is dealing with a mid-life crisis “In the nightclub of my mind / I’m doing cocaine in the cloakroom”. There is so much love in this song as the subject wants that special person to set him free “For in the gemstones in your eyes / I see stars that shine for ever / So come and set me free / From my vain and selfish ways”
They Sold My Home to Build a Skyscrapper is a wonderful social commentary of the times we are living in. This is a story of how cities are being destroyed, how our cultural institutions are being knocked to the ground, all that history, all those lives shared, all those memories being driven to the ground and handed over to property developers so they can make money. “On the dancefloor where we met / Now stands a luxury development”. This line is so relatable, we all walk through our cities and towns and see the places where relationships were formed, being replaced by new offices and houses. What this song does like with so much of the album is to give us hope and reminds us “To be the beacon in the gloom / Be the mammoth in the room”
Those feelings of hope and optimism continue in Cover up the Cover up. Gruff Rhys has certainly been keeping up with the news, the horrors of this evil government who can’t help themselves from lying “For the government lie / When they just can’t win an argument” and has written the most melodic, beautiful, and sweetest protest song that you are ever going to hear. It is not your usual way of delivering a protest song but it is absolute genius. The hypnotic melodies ensures that you listen to every word, the song gets deep inside your head and you will be inspired to stand for this rubbish no longer. It is time for change and make sure you do something about it “Reinvent the government / Lets do it on Monday / Reinvent the government / The whole institution” And while we are at it lets not stop with the government lets tackle the other institutions that fail us “Overthrow the monarchy / And the private school system”
One of the many things that I love about songwriters is how they find different words to express themselves. They use language in a way that we might not always associate with certain situations and manage to make us think about how we use words and can find different ways to express emotions. I Tendered My Resignation does exactly that. That statement is something we usually associate with leaving a job, Gruff has taken that phrase and used it in such a genuine, heartfelt way for the songs subject to come to the realisation that a relationship has to end “I tendered my resignation / As I felt I was undeserving of your love / I tendered my resignation / As I felt I had gone beyond what’s respectful in a relationship”. Perhaps I should have warned you before quoting those lyrics but this song should come with a warning that it will make you cry. You can feel the heartbreak throughout the lyrics, the strings and the percussion that all combine to take us on a very emotional journey.
I am going to conclude this review with a very bold statement, it might be recency bias playing a big part but I am going to go as far as saying that Sadness Sets Me Free could well be one of, if not the, greatest albums that Gruff Rhys has given us. It seems perfect for these times, it captures the darkness yet leaves us with hope and optimism for the future and that human beings will come together, fill the world with love and push the evil out.