Dear 'Rings Around The World':
Hard to believe we've been together for ten years already, isn't it?
At the same time, it's even harder to believe it has only been ten years. As I sit here now and listen to you - you still sound good, don't worry - I'm not entirely sure I need to. Wait, come back. What I mean by that is I feel like you're already ingrained in my psyche - I don't need to have you on to know what you sound like, to remind me how great you are. That sounds a bit silly - obviously any record you've heard more than a few times is going to work its way into your brain - but this goes beyond that. I feel like I know each and every note, every pause, every transition so well that you're over before you've begun.
Does that make sense? It's meant to be a compliment so I hope you take it that way.
I have many fond memories of you. Before we even get to your songs, let's talk about the milestones in my life you represent. Your tour is the most I've ever seen a band on a single tour - four times between the two North American legs, including a three night in a row stretch between Cleveland, Toronto and then back to Buffalo - and it remains one of my favorite tours I've seen. Your (initially UK-only) DVD release caused me to go out and buy an all-region DVD player that could convert the PAL signal for my NTSC television set so that I could enjoy your videos, bonus tracks and remixes. (If I remember correctly, I bought your DVD before the player to make sure I had you to test it out.) On that note, you were the first album I listened to once I got a proper 5.1 set up - and I must say you set the bar incredibly high for albums that followed. Well done. You were the first SFA LP I bought on vinyl on release day - and a good thing I did because you prove to be tricky to track down these days and then a bit on the pricey side once you do - even though I had to wait a few weeks for you because of pressing difficulties with the bonus 7". I think. Something like that.
Anyways, that's a lot of musical memories for one album...and we haven't gotten to the music yet! You get picked on a lot. Some felt you weren't the massive step forward from 'Guerrilla' that it had been from 'Radiator' and 'Radiator' had been from 'Fuzzy Logic' - that you were a consolidation of strengths rather than exploration of new ground - and you have to admit that's fair. "No Sympathy" is basically "Mountain People" with more extremes on either side, for example. That doesn't make you any less of an album, not at all! So yes, while I see that argument, I don't see it as a negative.
Others say you aren't as focused as you could be, which is a load of garbage. Yes, you are the textbook example of a "kitchen sink" album, a let's throw everything at the wall and see what sticks type of record. But, you do it right! This is exactly where the consolidation of strengths turns into, well, a strength. We knew SFA had a techno side and a soft acoustic side and a punky Britpop side, so it didn't sound forced when they threw all their eggs into one basket and tried to do everything at once. It works, don't listen to them. Are you sprawling? Absolutely. Are you a bit on the messy side? Sure. Overlong and lacking focus, though? I don't think so. In fact, I've always thought the five bonus tracks from the DVD could be mixed into the album proper for one massive 18-track behemoth ready to crush the world.
Potential overstatement one: You are my era's 'Sign "O" The Times'. You are everything going on around you, your influences from the past and your vision of the future all thrown into a blender and poured out over a four-side feast. You are what's going on in your world without preaching about it. You are not your creator's best album - sorry - but you are the truest, most complete picture of them.
Potential overstatement two: You know how people say: "I remember exactly what I was doing the first time I heard 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and it changed the way I listened to music"? Well, if they can say that, then I can say: "I remember exactly what I was doing the first time I heard 'Rings Around The World' and it changed the way I listened to music". Because, well, I do and you kind of did. (For the record, I was sitting at my computer in the apartment I shared with my best friend from high school early one morning as over the evening you had, erm, appeared on my hard drive a bit before release. The internet is magic.)
This is how I feel about you and I know many disagree. They can do that all they want. They can choke on my hyperbole because, let's be honest, I can't help but lay it on thick when I talk about you - it's part of what you do to me. But they can't change my mind or tell me I'm wrong. They can say that 'Phantom Power' is the best SFA album and we can hang out in the corner pointing and laughing at them. They can buy their fucking Grandaddy records and force your creators to open for them on a US tour and we can knock their fucking trucker hats to the floor. They can do all this and more, but they don't have the joy you give me when I put you on.
So fuck em.
PS: If I had to use a picture to describe how I feel about you, it would be this screen grab from your very own DVD: