Monday, 17 November 2008

Neon Neon - Stainless Style (Lex 2008)

Who would have thought that the lead singer of Super Furry Animals and the prog-loving hip-hop producer Boom Bip, famed for his work with Anticon would produce something that sounded anything like Neon Neon? What could have and indeed should have been an experimental psychedelic space-age prog-hop soul power record instead sounds two parts cheesy to one part guilty pleasure, as Neon Neon is the sound of the 80s plumed through contemporary computers, for that trendy sound that everyone from the Mystery Jets to Klaxons is trying to capture. The problem is, I was around the first time around, and I didn’t like it then. But I like Gruff Rhys a lot, and I quite like Boom Bip’s solo work. So what to make of Neon Neon?

The issue with it is musically, it’s all show and bluster, all style and all appearances. It’s capturing the zeitgeists of da trendee yoot, and you’re never sure whether it’s pastiche or not, so it’s hard to gauge a reaction, or even a connection with the songs.

‘Dream Carz’ is a good start with its rnb crunched through a synth vibe and the Gary Numan-esque narrative. It’s funky and fresh, and not too cheesy, while retaining the subtle humour and bizarre obscurity of vintage Gruff Rhys. ‘I Told Her on Alderaan’ is a complete guilty pleasure, all ridiculous 80s synths and searing metallic melodies with oodles of Star Wars references. Afterwards, it starts to dip a little, bringing in Spank Rock, a crime against hip hop, and Har Mar Superblah to try and raise the roof with ‘Trick and Treat’. It doesn’t quite work. It feels too knowing, too self-referential and too navel-gazing to really work. It seems as if Neon Neon are setting their sights on the pop charts. It’s surprising that an album so shamelessly backward-looking and filled with pastiche was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, especially when the two main players have done much more jaw-dropping work in the past. It feels as if they’ve stumbled on some cool shades, invented a concept around it, bought a DeLorean and can’t figure out how to get Back to the Future. Yes, it’s showy and there’s some great production and Gruff Rhys’ stranged psychedelic voice still sounds special, but they’re coasting, they’re doing this for the kudos and not for the joy of it, or they’re doing this as one big joke on all of us, like Test Icicles did when they tried to make the most ridiculous and pathetic album they could, which then spawned the Klaxons. The album dips and rises and never really rises above guilty pleasure and when that’s the best thing you can say about a piece of work, you have to worry. Which is a shame because they’ve done amazing things in the past separately, they’ve even worked well together. Neon Neon is exactly what it says on the tin: Stainless Style. Effortlessly ‘cool’ but all the worse for it.


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