Super Furry Animals - Rings Around The World, track by track

Super Furry Animals

SFA frontman Gruff Rhys talks about the band's album, Rings Around The World.

Last updated: 28 January 2009

Alternate Route To Vulcan Street

"The title is an actual road sign, right near the Canadian border outside Detroit. We'd taken a wrong turning in the van. It's quite a striking sign to be confronted with. It has no Trekkie connotations at all: it's very much of this earth.

"The music was written by Cian and Bunf on samplers late at night, and the rest of us played or sung over it. I think it's one of the best sounding pieces on the album. It's a song about impending deluge it could be applied to global warming.

"The film is by an artist from Cardiff called Darren Watkins and it's his interpretation of the song. It's a very beautiful, colourful, abstract beginning."

Sidewalk Serfer Girl

"That comes from a demo I wrote that was about 15 seconds long. Initially it was about Patti Whitebull who slept for 15 years. She was in some kind of coma but they could tell she was dreaming. She woke up in 1999 and asked for pizza.

"Everyone's had a lot of input musically. We didn't really know what we were doing and it's a lot more interesting for it. It's an amalgamation of the lyrics of different songs. I had a period of being totally disgusted by extreme sports. They're what people who don't suffer do to taste what suffering's like. My outlook on the subject is a bit milder now - it's probably better that people throw themselves off bridges on a bit of string than fight. It's probably a war replacement."

(Drawing) Rings Around The World

"At the time we were really fancying ourselves as a vocal band, so there's me and Bunf and Cian and Daf harmonising away on top of a rock'n'roll pop song. It's a recurring communicative theme the air that we breathe is full of people talking crap. It's one of my girlfriend's dad's theories, because there's radio waves everywhere, and if you visualised all these waves then the earth would be surrounded by this network of rings and pollution and junk.

"We spent a night phoning around the world. We'd get the national code and then try random numbers. We thought we'd make this amazing collage but it's just a collection of these irate people being woken up at four o'clock in the morning. The American Embassy in Madagascar, a record shop in Osaka, a record company in Australia..."

It's Not The End Of The World?

"It's a romantic song about growing old: a very melodic string-laden song. The video's a montage of mushroom clouds and explosions. There's a story of a farmer outside Nagasaki who, when the bomb went off and he didn't know what it was, thought it was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. He had no concept that it was a danger to him. It sounds a bit bleak on paper but I think it's one of the most seductive songs on the album."

Receptacle For The Respectable

"It started as a song in two parts, and then we added a third and then a fourth, and at one point a fifth as well - there was a hip hop bit at the end.

"It's a song about a girl around town, and being in awe/hurt by a powerful woman about town. And it's a celebration of absurd musical juxtapositions. I think the final section makes the song valid, because up 'til then it's an exercise in classicist rock music.

"It features a great vocal by Daf in the third part. It was a monster track to mix. And it's our chance to indulge in pantomime death metal at the end.

"It seemed the obvious song to give to Pete Fowler and his boundless imagination. The film is as unpredictable as the song. He's pushed his work into another dimension, and embraced art deco, which is the last thing you'd think he'd embrace. Pete Fowler now refers to his art as Monsterism. He didn't want to be a minor player in a big classification so he invented his own movement, and he's the biggest player in his field.

"The album to this point is a great driving album. I've recently passed my test and it's given me a new outlook on music. At that point it might be where drowsiness might kick in, so it's for the lorry driver who's got comfortable with the Bacharach-style balladry."

[A] Touch Sensitive

"We've had a lot of instrumentals in the past but they've normally been very short. It's a tune of Cian's in a vast, soundtrack style, based around samples including one of the Stooges. The film is animated 'erotica'. It's quite comic: very tastefully done!"

Shoot Doris Day

"The film really illustrates the song. The song's quite self-explanatory in ways. It's a great big chorus. The 'Shoot Doris Day' reference is to shoot her with film. I wanted it to start with a very cinematic reference for a very cinematic intro it just had to be over-the-top lyrically.

"It's very simple, about how people always change. In the second verse there's a reference to Victor Panache, which is our vision of Peter Mandelson. "Victor Panache lost his moustache in the PR war". That was about his old scandal, but while we were recording he had another one, which was quite handy, not that I feel any sympathy for him at all.

"It's probably the most anthemic moment on the album, but there's a lot of regret in there."


"It's a Cian track that sounds like an intro to a twenty minute long song. That's the beauty of it - it's a teaser."

No Sympathy

"I think it'll make a good football chant: "You deserve to die". I wrote it for a film called Plop that was done by a group called Fukme 99 last year. It was a film about a group of selfish people who go round imagining they were living their last days, being very primal for their last moments, but you didn't feel any sympathy for any of the characters.

"When you take the song out of that context it sounds really heavy, but at the same time you had George Bush coming into power, and he'd been sticking people on death row willy-nilly. By the time we were recording it for the album, in America, there was some pretty barbaric things going on. The fact that the attitude to human life is becoming less and less respectful, so I was George Bush singing, which was not pleasant.

"It's such an ambiguous lyric, we want to make it clear which side of the fence we stand. It's also followed by Juxtapozed With U which has a completely different, opposite lyric. No Sympathy is quite an unsettling song. The film is very heavy, but quite comic as well. There's some amazing acting in it there's a kid pretending to die, that's great acting. It's another wakeup moment. It's a fairly long album, our longest yet, it needs some spicy moments to lift it out of complacency."

Juxtapozed With U

"It's a very loved up song. I wanted to add duets to my songwriting canon you know, and we approached Bobby Brown and Brian Harvey but they turned us down, so I sung it myself a very schizophrenic thing to do. I used a vocoder to replicate a different person. I wanted to do something like Ebony And Ivory. It's about house prices going up, and people being left behind by the super rich. It's about social injustice [laughs] - loved up social justice. 'Non-phobic word aerobic'.

"For me it's a shocking song, because you can't shock with loud guitars any more. That macho thing's been done so that kind of shocking isn't shocking. For me it's fairly subversive, because it's a polished and clean and tidy, uplifting pop song. For me there is a reason to put it out as a first single, to make sure people don't become complacent with a particular idea of what we are as a band. I like the idea that we can shock people a bit and test people a little test people's concept of taste. I think there's a lot of macho music going around which has become a bit tiresome, and it's a statement almost, it's like a jingle stuck on the album.

"Fukme 99 did the film for it. I think it's about the outsider. There's a lonely, crappy looking cardboard camera walking around Hammersmith getting chucked out of Halfords, and he meets up with a lonely clapperboard. In turn they find a downtrodden microphone and they get together and make films, and it ends up in a big dance routine with all these other cardboard outsiders. I write songs that bring people together!"

Presidential Suite

"It's about Boris Yeltzin and Bill Clinton and was written during the Monica Lewinsky affair, but I didn't want to release it at the time. It's a reflective look back at the decadent nineties. I suppose it's about what kind of super ego makes someone want to be president. It's a ballad with another top Sean O'Hagan string arrangement. I think it's the most complete song I've ever written in a conventional way, in terms of chord structures and lyrics and narrative.

"4K did an amazing looking film that cost five grand. It looks like a Terry Gilliam-style cold war epic. I keep expecting a big foot to come down and destroy everything! The central character is an old jet that flies around the United States and Russia and the obstacles that get in its way."

Run! Christian, Run!

"Bunf had a spate of being logged onto the internet most of the time, and he got heavily into doomsday cult websites, as an observer, not a participator. He printed out quite a lot of essays by these nutters, and I wrote the lyrics from there. And also when we were on tour in America we watched a lot of Christian television shows, the sort where preachers say 'It's not your money, it's God's money, so send in your cheques!'

"Cian had demo'd a repetitive theme with this loop that became the intro and outro, and I added a country rock verse, by which time Bunf had learnt the pedal steel. Bunf found the title and I started singing it on top of Cian's demo. Again we fancied ourselves as a vocal band.

"We approached one of the more interesting websites to do the film. The Ministry Of Truth are a couple called Armand Geddyn and his wife 'Malibu' Barbie Geddyn. It's quite a critical website, critical of organised religion. It's a heavy song, and you need Arma' Geddyn for a heavy song! It's followed by..."

Fragile Happiness

"...which has the simplest lyrics on the album. It's a short slow song, again with Bunf on pedal steel.

"We got Martin McCarthy, who is a friend from Cardiff, to do the film. He originally wanted to build icebergs out of old fridges and float them down the Taff, and film it. Eventually he got computer graphics to aid him. It's a very nice metaphor to end the film icebergs floating along, gradually melting. It's the simplest video and the simplest song and maybe the most powerful.

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