Friday, 15 July 2016

50 albums to take to my grave #38: Rings Around The World

No surprises that I've got a Super Furry Animals album on this list, surely. The choice of album may have caught one or two of you off guard though. Why 'Rings Around The World'? Well, quite simply it's the sheer quality of the songs throughout.

The band's major label debut certainly has a very different sound to it than its four predecessors, but the Sony budget could clearly stretch to giving the band the freedom to create the sheer breadth of sounds their songs demanded. It was certainly their most expansive album to date, in terms of production and length at least. It was also their most commercial-sounding which I've no doubt was Sony's influence. However, it was still the Super Furry Animals, which means it was still laden with strangeness and eccentricities, albeit in a more lush and ambitious manner.

The opening track drops hints. Alternate Route To Vulcan Street starts with a simple piano riff and builds slowly with electronics and strings. Strings! That was the first big sign that the Furries were taking full advantage of their increased budget. It's Not The End Of The World? and Shoot Doris Day are perhaps the best illustrations of where this new indulgence enhances the band's sound to magnificent effect. In the latter, Gruff Rhys sings: "People never stay the same / It's a fight between the wild and tame." There's no fight going on here - the wild and tame live in perfect harmony, but it's clear Super Furry Animals had no interest in staying the same.


Fears that this may have been a major label sell-out record are unfounded. Receptacle For The Respectable, one of my fave SFA tracks, is simply bonkers. Its techno-thrash breakdown at the end showing that the band's goofy experimental side was still intact, especially as Paul McCartney (yes, THE Paul McCartney) appears on the track munching carrots and celery. Really! It's an intentional piss-take, but one that works in the oddest way. Typical Furries, then. The electronics step up a gear on this record too. The trip-hop influenced instrumental (A) Touch Sensitive is one of the album's standouts, a track where Cian shines. His flourishes abound on many of the other best songs too, not least during the two-minute electro head-fuck that concludes No Sympathy.

Of course, the one everyone knows is Juxtaposed With U, one of my least fave SFA songs. It sounds like the Lighthouse Family on acid! Mind, it could have been worse - it was apparently conceived as a duet with first Brian Harvey (East 17) and then woman-beater Bobby Brown approached to sing with Gruff. Imagine that! Fortunately, both declined the invitation and Gruff sang with a vocoder effect on his vocal in the verses instead. I'm still not a fan of the song, if I'm honest. The final straw for me was hearing it played instore in Asda. I mean ffs! Fortunately, the rest of the album more than makes up for that single faux pas.

While I'd pick Receptacle For The Respectable and the wonderfully catchy title-track as the two for a homemade best of, there's no denying the real treat comes right near the end. Run! Christian, Run!, a song about an apocalyptic suicide cult, is simply sublime. A career highlight, in my opinion, and a jaw-dropper at their Cardiff comeback concerts last year.

The ever hip and trendy NME described 'Rings Around The World' as the Super Furry Animals' "worst album". As usual, they completely missed the mark. It was (and arguably remains) their most ambitious, cinematic even. It is their most polished and accomplished. It could even be their most accessible to the uninitiated. The band would never make another 'Rings Around The World'. That's no doubt deliberate and no bad thing either. But in a back catalogue of extraordinarily high quality, where there is nothing less than excellence, 'Rings...' remains king.



Soundtrack:

Video for (Drawing) Rings Around The World:



Wonderful video for Shoot Doris Day from the ' Rings Around The World' DVD:



3 comments:

  1. We'll just have to agree to disagree about the merits of Juxtaposed...a wonderful and gorgeous piece of pop IMHO.

    Receptacle was one of the highlights of the recent Glasgow show I went along to....

    Great review of a very good album.....

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