May 03, 2011 Web Exclusive
Gruff Rhys' last album was a collaboration with an unknown Brazilian protest singer/instrumentalist named Tony Da Gatorra, who invented his own instrument, a peculiar combination of guitar and drum machine referred to as the "gatorra." That album was a furious mess, quite possibly intentionally so. But if Rhys' dedication to the new and eclectic was ever in question, that album, The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness, put the doubts to bed.
On his third solo album, the leader of Welsh pop experimentalists Super Furry Animals returns to Earth, or in his case the particular esoteric and expansive pop world that he usually inhabits. Hotel Shampoo is light rock by Rhys standards, a fine work of both incandescent beauty and inexplicable oddity. Much of the album is calm, orchestrated, and led by Rhys' uncharacteristically crooning vocals. "Shark Ridden Waters" sounds like some strange interpretation of '70s singer/songwriter fare, complete with seagull squawks and what sounds like a gunshot at the end. "Vitamin K" sounds like yacht rock with airy vocals and even a sax solo; except in Rhys' version of yacht rock, bass effects and mild electronic touches vibrate just below the song's surface. "Sensations in the Dark" adds mariachi horns. "Patterns of Power" is accented by guitar solos, a strange chromatic piano run, and a late-track surfacing of groovy bass. "Space Dust #2" is a serene, violin-filled duet with El Perro Del Mar, and "Christopher Columbus" boasts one of the album's most ingratiating choruses, albeit sandwiched between funky instrumental workouts.
Rhys' music is often described as "kaleidoscopic." I suppose this is true, but it's something like a kaleidoscope held up to the wrong eye...in the dark...played with while drunk. It's unexpected, beautiful, weird, and satisfying all at the same time. (www.gruffrhys.com)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 9/10