This quintet of Welsh electro-punks was one of the last finds by Alan McGee's revered indie label, Creation Records, which released the Super Furry Animals' first three albums to great critical acclaim in the late 90s. After the label folded in 1999, the band drew inward with Mwng, a self-released collection of ten songs in its native tongue; inexpensively recorded, it made a substantial profit (a first for the group), nearly broke into the British top ten, and won praise from Welsh members of parliament. Now signed to Sony in Britain and XL Recordings/Beggars Group in the U.S., the Super Furry Animals have abandoned that album's provincial bent: their latest, Rings Around the World, delivers a loving millennial treatise on the planet's peoples and ecosystems. Named the record of 2001 by Mojo magazine, Rings casually and masterfully mixes acoustic and electronic sounds, and its buoyant parade of pop styles recalls both XTC's English Settlement and the Kinks' Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround. The dreamy opener, "Alternative Route to Vulcan Street," wreathes a nocturnal adagio piano in strings as singer Gruff Rhys confesses, "Sometimes I ponder / What if the Caspian Sea / Should merger / Over my shoulder / With Irish lakes / And Seoul suburbia?" That reflective mood is shattered by the pounding sixteenth notes and mock Beach Boys chorus of the next tune, "Sidewalk Serfer Girl," about a Native American woman who hibernates for 15 years and wakes to find her children "all grown up now / On the reservation grid." And on the jazz-lounge gem "Presidential Suite," guest John Cale tickles the ivories as Rhys tweaks Clinton for bombing Sudan and Afghanistan to distract the world from Monica Lewinsky. The band has also released an imaginative DVD version of Rings featuring 18 computer-animated and live-action videos--including one by Pete Fowler, whose weird animals and space aliens have decorated many of SFA's records. His contribution, for the exuberant "Receptacle for the Respectable," follows a skull-faced blue alien as he emerges from his home (a huge cartoon head) to go walking into the woods, where he's reborn as a skull-faced infant. Super Furry Animals are a killer live band, and for this visit--in support of a career-defining album--they ought to be at the height of their powers. The show is sold-out. Friday, April 19, 10 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Vincent McDonald.