Revisiting: Rings Around The World
Had Welsh weirdos Super Furry Animals towed the line a little, not bolted seven-minute techno freakouts onto the end of gentle guitar-led ballads, not released a Christmas single furnished with a gazillion swearwords and so on, they could probably have been one of the biggest bands in the world.
But, despite melodies to die for, they remain little more than a delightful footnote in the 90s/00s music scene and heroes to their devoted indie followers. In spite of this, they were, and are, important.
The release of a Super Furry Animals album was something worth celebrating, certainly in the early days anyway. After the ace Fuzzy Logic and Radiator came the bold Guerilla and the Welsh language folk album, Mwng and then, in 2001, Rings Around The World, their fifth LP. Launched at the same time that the LP dropped, came a DVD – with videos for each song. Now, SFA have always had the ability to slightly disappoint, such is their ambition multiplied by their lopsided look at the world and, despite a few strong moments, the DVD wasn’t perhaps the filmmaking tour de force we had hoped for. But the album. Oh what an album.
If there was one track that summed up the band it is Receptacle For the Respectable. Opening breezily and bouncily, it steadily gravitates towards a weird, gothic, heavy-as-shit near death metal denouement, with growled vocals. This is classic SFA, starting somewhere and ending at a place entirely different. Somewhere galaxies away. But perhaps most significant is the fact that the band secured the services of Paul McCartney to play on the song and also the way in which they utilised him. Now, when you have one-quarter of the best band of all time at your disposal, how do you use him? On bass? On lead vocals? Backing vocals? Nah, if you’re Super Furry Animals, you simply get him to crunch some celery in the general vicinity of the microphone as a nod to when he performed a similar role over thirty years earlier on The Beach Boys song, Vegetables. And that’s it… a barely audible sound hidden deep within the layers of the track. It may seem unusual to some, perhaps a waste, but fans of the band would expect nothing different.
Similarly, No Sympathy is also typical of SFA. Legend has it that the band was having some trouble finishing it. When they eventually handed it to their label, the suits said something along the lines of “Fantastic, just so long as you haven’t done something silly like end it with a five minute techno freakout.” It was, of course, exactly what they had done. Travelling through uncharacteristically downbeat subject matter, (“You deserve to die,”) it ends with knob-twiddling, bleeping, breakneck speed madness.
Elsewhere, on the LP that was originally going to be called Text Messaging is Destroying the Pub Quiz as We Know It, we have the beautiful Juxtaposed With You, all vocoder vocals and worthy sentiments (“You’ve got to tolerate all those people that you hate,”). Then there is the jewel in the crown, Presidential Suite. It’s a story about former United States and Russian presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin over lush strings and hears lead vocalist Gruff Rhys sing, “do we need to know if he really came inside her mouth?” with regard to the Lewinsky scandal. Lastly, Fragile Happiness asks if Will Smith ever caves in and cries.
It’s a weird and wonderful indie/psych/pop record. Probably their furthest-reaching yet also the most accessible, the one crammed with most ideas and arguably the strongest – track for track, of their nine studio albums. If you don’t own it, you should hunt it down.
So, yes, Super Furry Animals could, in a parallel universe, have topped the charts, but had it meant compromising their somewhat loopy vision, then I’m very glad they didn’t.
Words by Bobby Townsend