Neon Neon - Stainless Style
Simon Jay Catling 07/03/2008
It's a glorious coincidence that in this, the thirtieth year since Jean-Michel Jarre released his electronic masterpiece 'Oxygene,' electro seems to be more prominent than ever as act after act give their own interpretations on a musical genre that many forget has a long and diverse history all of its own. However, when Super Furry Animals front man Gruff Rhys decides to have a stab at it then you know it's time to sit up and pay attention. Rhys is a man with few inhibitions creatively- a random trawl back through the 'Furries back catalogue should tell you that, not to mention his recently acclaimed solo venture. Here he teams up with Los Angeles producer Boom Bip, and numerous other collaborators; implores us to don our RELAX t-shirts, dye our hair a weird shade of acid green and gyrate about like it's the 80s all over again. At this point readers you can be forgiven for thinking this sounds less promising than when Dexy's Midnight Runners man Kevin Rowland made his return to Reading festival in 1999 wearing a dress and wheeling out slushy love ballads. However, this is Gruff Rhys we're talking about- a creative well that as yet shows no sign of abating, and in Neon Neon we have something a lot better than just a side project.
'Stainless Style' possesses both the style and sheen that befits an album documenting the life of successful car engineer John DeLorean, (oh did I forget to mention it's a concept album too?) and wastes no time luring the listener in with the rather Jarre-esque 'Neon Theme'; featuring enough rhythmic percussion and sliding synths and bleeps, this would take us all back twenty years if it didn't sound so fresh and modern at the same time. The heavily thudding 'Dream Cars' follows next with Rhys' unmistakeable vocal narrating on how DeLorean got to the top of the car industry. Those thinking that all there is here is some re-hashed electro and tired synths though, don't be fooled; spiky, jagged guitars cut through the electric drum beat and writhing noises here to give a pre-conceptually dreamy song a real bite and edge. This is a trick that's repeated to good effect throughout the album and allows the songs to explore a depth and diversity that one might not expect, and Neon Neon really do span those genres here, from the euphoric, pulsating energy of 'I Told Her On Alderaan' to 'Trick For Treat'- a real ear opener that marries the album's overriding 80's shimmer to (and you'll probably slay me for this,) the pop R'n'B sensibilities of Justin Timberlake, thanks to an impressive vocal collaboration by US rapper Spank Rock. At the other end of the spectrum comes 'Steel Your Girl,' which comes as close to bog standard indie rock as your likely to get on this LP, and is definitely one of the albums more forgettable tracks. All is forgiven however with forthcoming single 'I Lust U,' featuring the deliciously seductive vocals of Welsh singer Cate Le Bon in a purely retro slice of electro pop that, had it been released a couple of months later, would surely soundtrack this year's summer. Le Bon and Rhys duet in a wonderfully laidback manner; gently nudging each other on, whilst Bip provides electronic hooks that bore their way into your head just as successfully as any pop song. With such a raised bar it's inevitable that the rest of the album doesn't quite match up, not to say that it doesn't try. 'Sweat Shop' comes out grimey, bass heavy and reminiscent of expert DJ David Holmes own Free Association. 'Belfast' tells of DeLorean's DeLorean Motor Company setting up in the exotic climbs of Northern Ireland, whilst 'Michael Douglas' appears to be strangely unhinged ode to the ageing actor's sunglasses; finally comes the hip-hop influenced 'Luxury Pool,' an eulogy do DeLorean's controversial life which saw success and millions before entrapment and court cases lead to his eventual downfall.
Neon Neon prove that writing intelligent pop never has to come at the expense of catchy hooks and danceable rhythms. Moreover, the duo managed to convey a depth and musical diversity here that elevates the album above that of 'just another electro-pop record'. The accolades thus far in this review have gone to Gruff Rhys, but the influence of Boom Bip cannot be underestimated as he shapes and moulds his squiggles and squeaks into a coherent, atmospheric and, most important of all, memorable stylistic model- much like a certain Monsieur Jarre did some thirty years ago.