Thursday, 3 December 2009

Albums Of The Decade: #28

Stainless Style - Neon Neon [2008]

It should never have worked.

Stainless Style was a collaboration between Super Furry Animals' frontman Gruff Rhys and American producer Boom Bip, who had worked with Rhys on the Furries' Phantom Phorce remix album. It was, in their words, a "bonkers disco record" steeped in 80s electro-pop, and it was a concept album about playboy car designer John DeLorean. Needless to say, it should have been a complete mess.

It wasn't.

Despite loosely tackling the whole of DeLorean's life with the help of a Benetton family of guest musicians, the album comes together as a coherent whole - not the scattered collection of singles it could have been. So yes, there's a song about Raquel Welch and a song about Michael Douglas, but they're not just random namedrops - they're part of the puzzle of their subject's life. It's amazing, really, how much they seem to care about this guy given, well, it's John DeLorean.

Like its very concept, so many aspects of Stainless Style shouldn't work, but do. Having a pun for a title, for example. Or Fatlip leading a rap exposition of DeLorean's life to a eurotrance synth riff, crashing headlong into Rhys and The Magic Numbers of all people melodically 'ahh'ing the album out like a cherubim choir.

Yet it works so well it couldn't be any other way: Luxury Pool strikes the right balance between stylised hip-hop bragging ("Baby, if you ride with me, I'll make you famous") and a genuine character study, and the title track's closing harmonies provide a perfect coda.

You also wouldn't expect the album to translate well into a live arena, but it sets up a great live show. Obscure album track Michael Douglas is transformed into a juddering anthem, and say what you like about Har Mar Superstar, who guests on Trick For Treat and MCs their gigs - he's a great stage presence. It's like watching a Simpsons character brought to life.

What else? The straight-up quality of I Told Her On Alderaan? I Lust U unexpectedly being one of the best pop records of last year? I could go on.

So why isn't Stainless Style higher on this list?

Because for all the brilliance, there are duds. I'm a big fan of Yo Majesty (T-shirt and everything - go me) but Sweat Shop isn't exactly their finest hour. Actually, it's a bit embarrassing. And having listened to this record about eight times, I still couldn't tell you how Steel Your Girl even goes.

It's an age-old argument: can an album be a true great if it lets through some missed targets or, even worse, filler? I'd say yes - but in this case they take the shine off a classy album. It's stylish, but not stainless.

Still, this is merely nitpicking against an incredible feat of musical bravado and a very fine album. Gruff Rhys has said there won't be any more Neon Neon - it was a one-off concept album after all - but he and Boom Bip may work together again on another project.

Good. More please.

Spotify link.