"I'm not in love with you, but I don't hold that against you."
Rings Around the World was released to no little fanfare and received widespread acclaim back in 2001. Fifteen years after its release, it remains one of the key releases in the Super Furry Animals discography. Having signed to Sony / Epic following the collapse of Creation Records, SFA took full advantage of much-increased production and promotion budgets by recording one of their most lush sounding albums. It’s a diverse album which saw the band indulge in glorious genre-hoping exercises that allowed the band to hold up mirrors to psych-pop, progressive rock, power-pop, drum and bass and pretty much anything else which took their fancy at the time. Dynamic and accessible, it’s a beautifully produced album, equal parts accessibility and depth.
Having undergone a restless musical evolution over their first five albums, Super Furry Animals had reached something of a peak in their musicianship on Rings Around the World. They’d also become masters of the pop single too, with “Juxtapozed With U” being a gloriously compelling hymn for world peace, “(Drawing) Rings Around the World” being an energetic blast of pure power pop and “It’s Not the End of the World” being one of my personal favourites of all their singles. By this point in their career the combination of SFA’s mastery of choruses with Gruff Rhys’ instantly recognisable and uniquely soulful voice was resulting in an ever-expanding gold-plated songbook. The fact that no Super Furries single has ever cracked the top ten says more about the music buying public at the time, than it does the quality of SFA’s songs.
That’s not to say that Rings Around the World is an album that relies purely on moments of commercial pop brilliance, as for all it’s diversity, it’s a beautifully balanced album, as it finds adequate space for sonic experimentation (Paul McCartney notoriously crunches vegetables through “Receptacle for the Respectable”), the hefty tug of heart strings (“Run! Christian, Run!” is one of SFA’s most emotional effecting moments) and current affairs (“Presidential Suite”). Sometimes though the diversity works against the cohesiveness of the album, and nowhere is this more obvious than when one of the prettiest songs on the album, the gorgeously laid back “No Sympathy”, morphes into a chaotic drum and bass workout, thus shattering the mood. It’s the sort of thing which probably sounded like a brilliant idea while SFA were jamming in the studio, but it just doesn’t work for me.
These are minor quibbles though, as from its Peter Fowler artwork, to the emotional warmth of its top quality songwriting, Rings Around the World’s quality shines through. Released at a time where, Radiohead aside, the musical giants of the previous decade were on the creative decline, Rings Around the World proved that that didn’t have to be the case, and history has subsequently proved it to be one of the most consistently enduring guitar-pop albums from the era.