Super Furry Animals frontman’s third solo LP captures his creative wanderlust.
Louis Pattison 2011-02-03
Despite his well-documented anarchic streak, Gruff Rhys has often showed a weakness for cosy, bucolic songcraft, leading to tunes that while pleasant on the ear, rather sell short the scope of his creative ability. His third solo album began in such a comfortable place: as Rhys puts it, "I thought the time had come to buy a suit and record an album of piano ballads". Thankfully, though, Rhys also boasts an insatiable creative wanderlust, so Hotel Shampoo – the title inspired by his impressive collection of miniature cosmetics, salvaged over a decade of touring with Super Furry Animals – journeys far beyond its simple starting point.
Hotel Shampoo was written and recorded around the same time Rhys filmed Seperado! – a so-called "psychedelic western musical" that took him out to South America in search of the Welsh colony in Patagonia – and the influence of the continent’s music suffuses throughout. Tropicalia, of fascination for the Super Furries since 2005’s Love Craft, has left a definite imprint on the album’s sing-song melodies and rich production, while songs like Sensations in the Dark and Vitamin K bloom with samba percussion and warm mariachi brass. Meanwhile, the brilliant Shark Ridden Waters, produced by Finders Keepers head honcho Andy Votel, feels mysterious and exotic, like an alien transmission. Commencing with the wheel of an analogue radio dial, it builds a loop salvaged from 60s beat group The Cyrkle into something sweltering and romantic: "I didn’t know you," sings Rhys, "But you felt like a friend."
At this stage in his career, it’s no shocker that Gruff Rhys should turn out a few tracks we’ll call business-as-usual: Honey All Over and the Beatles-esque Sophie Softly probably could have slotted into any album he has been involved with in the last decade without feeling out of place. But a handful of more quixotic numbers provide album highlights. Christopher Columbus hooks a tale of relationship breakdown on the tale of the collapse of Mayan civilisation, adding a killer sax break in the process; while Space Dust #2, a duet with Swedish vocalist El Perro Del Mar, is a wonderfully written tale of eyes meeting over papers at a science conference – but this love has a shelf-life. "You upped and left without warning," she sobs. "I had to work in the morning," responds Rhys, innocently.