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Super Furry Animals - Rings Around the World

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Artist: Super Furry Animals

Album: Rings Around the World

Label: Beggars Group

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

In 1996, the Super Furry Animal's debut single, "Something for the Weekend," was overshadowed by their Michael Jackson-offending, Australia-banned, Justine Fleischman-dating Britpop rivals. Sounding more "Charmless Man" than "Common People," the song became a darling for critics and musicians-allowing SFA to join the ranks of Blur, Oasis, and Pulp, without the mass appeal. Yes, I know they're Welsh and sometimes sing in that funny language. I also know their musical roots stretch far and deep through a series of eclectic and influential artists. But this review is strictly to let you know if I liked the album, and whether or not I'd recommend it. So I'll spare you any preface on Brit-pop's history (if you're reading this website I can probably assume you've been through a Britpop period and since moved on)-and get right to the nitty-gritty.

It is now 2002, and while Blur has embraced an artier sound, and the Gallagher brothers have put down their guitars and bitters for a series of trophy wives (losing rock god, Bonehead, in the process), the Super Furry Animals are walking down the tried and true path that put all these bands on the map. While their new release Rings Around the World is their strongest

album yet, it is eerily similar to Blur's "Great Escape" or "Parklife" period. This is a good thing.

In a day when most rock bands are intentionally lo-fi, SFA take us back to the decadent productions, arrangements, and ambitions of true Brit-pop (remember Rialto? Please don't...). The album, in addition to its solid 12 tracks, also comes with a CD of B-sides and a DVD, complete with videos, remixes, and a navigational menu with groovy special effects. The result may be uneven and slightly derivative, but hell, it's fun and a nice trip down memory lane, to the glory days of the mid-Nineties.

Rings Around the World's first track, "Alternate Route to Vulcan Street" encompasses the best and the worst of the Animals. With a haunting piano riff, "I am the Walrus"-esque horns and what sounds like the population of Cardiff on the strings, the song's opening moments linger memorably. But it's too much--somewhere between the singer Gruff Rhys' opening line and the song's midpoint, the Animal's ambitions swirl into each other creating an ultimately vague and unsatisfying song.

Luckily, the album improves from there. The second track, "Sidewalk Serfer Girl" is awesome. Sung to an acoustic guitar, with intermittent bursts of feedback, it hits the chorus full-tilt, creating a near perfect sing-along. Not quite "Something for the Weekend" material, but it still does the trick. Other tracks find the happy medium of 'look how quirky we are for crossbreeding these genres' and great pop songwriting--just like they and Blur captured years back. "Receptacle for the respectable" is such a wonderful Kinks-inspired pop diddy that could make Wes Anderson write a new film just so he could have it on his soundtrack.

Other than "Sidewalk Serfer Girl," the album's highpoint lies with "Juxtapose With U." The song just begs to be labeled retro, but it transcends its own self-mockery. Accompanied by a vocoder and synthesized strings, the band creates a successful splicing of lounge and soul.

Additional standout tracks include "Run, Christian, Run," a melancholy, slide-guitar driven piece, which slowly builds to colliding guitars and a triumphant finish. "Presidential Suite," another throwback to the Blur brit-pop era is reminiscent of "The Universal," with its orchestrated

pop mentality and slow vocal delivery. The song speaks of political scandal, focusing on Bill and Monica with such groan-inducing phrases as "another Cuban Cigar Crisis." Don't worry, though, the track is strong, and lyrically improves from there.

The album succeeds as top-notch UK rock, unlike those yawn-inducing wussy bands like StarSailor or Sparklehorse. Rings Around the World possesses energy, and a naiveté that most American bands would rather trade for irony. SFA know that their music represents a specific time period for many of their listeners and seem to be the only ones willing, and so far able, to carry the torch down a path that so many have abandoned. When it comes down to it, SFA are a band that don't need too much explanation or pleads for patience from the reviewer. Their songs last, and Rings Around the World is equally nostalgic and just a great rock/pop record. If you don't believe me, get in touch, we'll buy a 12 pack, listen to the album and dance around the room like we're freshman again.

By Addison MacDonald

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