Super Furry Animals : Rings Around The World

Welsh band's fifth album - have the ideas finally run dry?

‘Rings Around The World’ wafts in on the kind of heavy duty industry hype normally reserved for underwhelming Oasis albums. However, it pains this reviewer greatly to report that it’s not, as has been signalled, Super Furries’ best album. It’s their worst.

That’s still aeons better than most other left-of-centre alternative British pop bands, but it’s nonetheless a disappointment. After all those relatively frugal years on Creation, SFA signed up with moneybags major Epic to make the album they always felt Creation’s budget outlawed. They wanted an epic sound for an Epic era, an expensive, glossy production that would make them sound lush and widescreen. Mission accomplished. But along the way they extinguished a spark in the band’s belly.

Ironically, in attempting their most ambitious record they’ve delivered their blandest. Last year’s ‘Mwng’ may’ve been recorded on the cheap but it was raw, powerful and mysterious; qualities missing from ‘Rings…’. ‘Mwng’ sounded unique and timeless. This reaches for an effect so modern that at times it sounds like it could’ve been made in the ’80s. One suspects that the smooth finish even disguises the band repeating old ideas in places – such as on ‘No Sympathy”s pale rehash of ‘Mountain People’ – resorting almost to parody, the last thing you’d ever expect from SFA.

It would’ve been improved greatly by pruning a handful of the songs (in particular ‘No Sympathy’, the Status Quo-ish title track, the so-cheesy-I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-The Beautiful South ‘Presidential Suite’), and at 53 minutes long it could’ve easily handled the trim. Because there’s a core of brilliant songs struggling for air on ‘Rings Around The World’.

‘Run! Christian, Run!’ is the [I]true[/I] heir to ‘Mountain People”s folktronic crown, a beautiful Neil-Young-buys-Pro-Tools torch song built by Cian and sung elegiacally by Gruff. ‘Alternate Route To Vulcan Street’ is another mournful but delightful Cian (and Bunf) synth and sampler design, and ‘It’s Not The End Of The World?’ is Armageddon as imagined by Dennis Wilson (fans of The Beach Boys may recognise the melody from ‘Forever’). Even as a tribute to the Wilsons it works neatly.

So, there are some great songs here but some duff ones, too; you’ll be able to edit a top mini album out of it. Hopefully SFA now realise that in order to make a Premier League album, they don’t have to pay Premier League prices.

Ted Kessler