Wild Mercury Sound

Neon Neon - that's Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip - and "Stainless Style"

John Mulvey

In spite of my morbid suspicions about any record which features Har Mar Superstar, I find myself quite taken with the first album by Neon Neon. It's called "Stainless Style", and maybe it's acting as a kind of antidote to all the manly Led Zeppelin love I've indulged in these past few days.

"Stainless Style" belongs on another planet to Led Zep, being, as I briefly mentioned yesterday, a concept album about John DeLorean and his beautiful, preposterous cars, set to '80s-vintage synthpop and a hearty dose of contemporary hip hop/R&B. Har Mar - or Sean Tillman as he's renamed here - is mercifully a marginal figure: Neon Neon is ostensibly the project of the mercurial Gruff Rhys and LA producer Boom Bip, whose work (as satellite member of the vastly overrated smart-arse hip hop collective Anticon and as a sort of subs'-bench Dangermouse) has never really done it for me.

He does a pretty sterling job here, though, of joining the dots between robotic '80s pop and the randy, innovative R&B that flourished maybe five or six years ago. Gruff Rhys wanders through it all in a sort of imaginative daze, as usual, and I increasingly suspect he might be the strongest creative force in this mad and entertaining album. Which, with a bunch of passing hipster rappers guesting - Yo Majesty, Fatlip, the excellent Spank Rock - sometimes has the air of an updated, superior take on that Handsome Boy Modeling School/Deltron 3030 schtick of Dan The Automator (critical forerunners of the first Gorillaz album, of course, for better or worse).

At the risk of making this blog denser than ever with references, I'm currently really taken with a sequence near the start of the album that begins with "I Lust U" (echoes of Visage here, specifically "Fade To Grey", so God knows why I'm enjoying this), runs through the Tillman/Spankrock face-off "Trick For Treat" (a dead ringer for NERD's "Lapdance"), then ends up with some synths on "Raquel" (as in Raquel Welch, who apparently had an affair with DeLorean) that have the luxuriant, kinetic quality of Kraftwerk ("Tour De France" - the original one - maybe?).

Some of these tunes have sneaked out as singles over the past few months, but they work a lot better here, slotted into Rhys and Boom Bip's grand design. I say grand design, though the whole thing only lasts half an hour. Perhaps the pastiches work better here because they're contextualised by the odd burst of forward-thinking indie-pop like "I Told Her On Alderaan" and the wonderful"Steel Your Girl", where the melodic brilliance of Super Furry Animals shines through.

An interesting and amusing album that's musically good enough to play again and again, though. Especially if you - and you'll notice I'm not using the first person here - fetishistically conflate sex with cars. Take a glimpse into the sweat shop; it's out on Lex at the end of February.


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