Super Furry Animals' leap to a major label in the U.K. with Rings Around the World isn't that drastic of a change -- Fuzzy Logic was also released on Epic in the U.S., Creation was subsidized by Sony, and they never were exactly wanting of money on their previous records -- but the band nevertheless seizes the opportunity to consolidate their strengths, providing an introduction for listeners that may not have been paying attention before. As such, it's hard not to consider it as a bit of a missed opportunity, since this is the first SFA album not to progress from its predecessor, or offer the shock of the new, and that's hard not to miss -- but, if this is the first SFA record you hear, it'll likely intrigue, even dazzle, with its kaleidoscopic blend of pop, prog, punk, psych, and electronica.
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The fifth album from Welsh pop prodigies Super Furry Animals is their most ambitious work to date. Featuring everything from status quo-style boogie-rockers to technofied drill and bass meltdowns, this is an immaculately conceived pop masterpiece that has more in common with the excitable genre-crushing of 1999's Guerrilla than with their previous album, the respectable but defiantly firework-less Welsh-language folk outing Mwng. One of the great joys here is that, though the lyrics are imbued with dippy fun, closer inspection reveals a satisfyingly off-kilter--and frequently inspirational--intelligence. The gorgeous "Presidential Suite"--which, incidentally, features John Cale tickling the ivories--marries the classic SFA psychedelic shimmer to a weary lyric concerning the Monica Lewinsky scandal that rocked the Clinton presidency. Frontman Gruff Rhys questions the event sadly, as if it's the most passé thing he can comprehend. Perhaps that's so: when you're playing with the sort of magic that's scattered liberally over Rings Around the World, even the salacious exploits of world leaders pale into tedium. --Louis Pattison