Super Furry Animals - Rings Around The World - Review
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critics' view

Dreamy. Experimental. Schizophrenic. Bizarre. Could all be used to describe this, the fifth studio album from the Super Furries, but the one word that really sums this record up is Essential!

Gruff, Huw, Guto, Dafydd and Cian return with the follow up to their Welsh album ‘Mwng’. As much as I love ‘Mwng’, a non-Welsh speaker like myself, can’t really sing to it, I mean we try but we get funny looks in the street so end up humming quietly to ourselves instead. ‘Rings Around The World’ is different, out of the 13 tracks on the album, there are 11, yes ELEVEN! Infectiously catchy pop tunes, most of them potential hit singles.

The album opener ‘Alternate Route To Vulcan Street’ is a song that probably won’t be adored by the single buying public. Although it is a tale of loss and heartbreak, “I didn’t know that you would take it to heart, I didn’t know that it would break us apart”, and it starts with a solo piano, which has proved successful this year with the likes of Coldplay, Starsailor and Toploader. Though as you’d expect with the Super Furries, it’s hardly the most conventional of songs, there’s some mangled Vocoder vocals, a strings section, borrowed from an antique black and white movie, and then there’s Mr Ciaran’s electronic gizmos… all create a dark ‘n’ depressing ambience, which you want to get out of quickly. And you do, the band perks up on the next track, and you feel all warm and wonderful after listening to the first potential hit single, ‘Sidewalk Serfer Girl’. With it’s explosive guitars, Warp Records-esque noise and digital drum beats, and instantly catchy chorus “Sidewalk Serfer Girl, I’d do anything to catch you falling, Sidewalk Serfer Girl, I’d do anything to be with you sometimes.” It’s like a return to the summer of 99.

The whole album is fairly ‘Guerilla’-like… Beach Boys-esque psychedelic pop, complete with wonderful harmonies and falsetto vocals, put to techno undertones. This time round the album has more meaning, the band have grown, and become radioactive according to ‘(Drawing) Rings Around The World’ a song about “Earth, and the pollution of space, it's about debris.” Gruff seems to be taking his lyrics a little bit more seriously now. He’s not completely with it though… don’t worry. There’s a classic Super Furry line on the next track, ‘It’s Not The End Of The World’, “Turn all the hate in the world, into a mocking bird, make it fly away”, there’s a daft kind of genius to it isn’t there???

Next up is the song everyone’s been waiting for, ‘Receptacle For The Respectable’, which features Sir Paul McCartney munching celery, can you hear it? Yes… is it any good? Um… nope. The song is an ever-changing and dreamy affair. At first you ask yourself ‘Are they the Beatles?’ Then ‘Are they the Beach Boys?’ And by end you ask the question ‘Is Gruff Syd Barrett’s bastard son?’ as he repetitively roars out “RECEPTACLE FOR THE RESPECTABLE” as if the men in white coats are taking him away.

‘[A] Touch Sensitive’ will have the kids calling out “Re-ee-wind”. A slightlyouttafocus instrumental with orgasmic groans in the background… it’d fit nicely on a Warp or Wichita 12”. Whereas Cian’s other song ‘Miniature’ is dreamier and will keep the cosmic trigger happy. Sat in-between the two interludes is ‘Shoot Doris Day’, not much to say about it apart from its very average for SFA. Unlike the last five tracks on the album, which have to be SFA’s best work to date. The epic ‘No Sympathy’ weighing in at 7 minutes, is one of the bands most sinister moments with Gruff and co, singing lines like “Don't try me for sympathy, I don't feel sorry for you, You deserve to die“ and “I have no adjectives for you, And have no feelings for the who you are” to the background noise of acoustic guitars, the gentle stroking of drums and eerie random noises. During the end of the song, the random noises before more dominate and the song turns into a full on techno track. The lyrics for ’No Sympathy’ seems rather hypocritical when you listen to the upcoming single ‘Juxtaposed With U’ where Mr Rhys tries to seduce you in a Vocodered Air stylee, it’s a perfect pop song and if it doesn’t break into the top 10, I’ll eat my… well I’ll eat the CD.

A SFA album wouldn’t be complete without a comical track, on ‘RATW’ its ‘Presidential Suite’ a song about the state of today’s political system, using examples of the affair between Monica Lewinsky and ‘naughty Billy’, “Honestly, do we need to know, If he really came inside her mouth?” and ‘little Boris’ love of Russia’s finest drink, “Pass another vodka dear”. It’s used on John Cale’s film ‘Beautiful Mistake’ and it has the sassy strings and brass sections, which you’d expect from a James Bond film.

It goes a bit ‘Papa M Sings’ on ‘Run! Christian! Run!’, a demented country tinged track. The lyrics are again gloomy with Gruff singing his views on religion, “So bang on the hour of twelve, to the forest clearing we’ll delve, with guns to our heads, for we know that heaven awaits us”, the song gradually builds up before going out with a blaze of glory with Cian going mental on his synths.

They leave the best till last. ‘Fragile Happiness’ is a short but sweet acoustic number ala ‘Fire In My Heart’. Gruff finally gets to show of his falsetto vocals, and wonderful whistling talents, without Cian’s bleeps and beeps drowning them out. If you don’t know what fragile happiness is… it’s ‘Rings Around The World’. This is SFA’s best album to date, and it’ll hopefully bring the band into the public’s consciousness. You need this album, so buy! buy! buy!

James Moore
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Drowned in Sound, sometimes abbreviated to DiS, is a UK-based music webzine financed by artist management company Silentway. Founded by editor Sean Adams, the site features reviews, news, interviews, and discussion forums.
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