Saturday 21 January 2017

Music: Hotel Shampoo by Gruff Rhys ****

(Turnstile)

Published 11/02/2011 | 05:00

Forget Tom Jones and Kelly Jones, James Dean Bradfield and Euros Childs. Forget Cerys Matthews too. When it comes to songwriting, none of Wales's exports come close to Gruff Rhys, the Super Furry Animals leader and popular music renaissance man.

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In the 15 years that Rhys has been releasing music, the sheer breadth and depth of compositional gifts have been evident for anyone who has sought them out. There has been the wilfully experimental (the Welsh-language album Mwng), the genre-hopping masterwork (Rings Around the World) and the pop-laden curio (Neon Neon).

Yet, Rhys rarely gets the credit he deserves. Not for him the sort of acclaim doled out to the ever-busy Damon Albarn or Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake, despite his body of work being every bit as impressive -- and durable. Perhaps it's because Gruff Rhys seems programmed not to take himself too seriously. (I tried to interview him once in a room thick with hash smoke and he spent the allocated time playing with my biro -- a reflection on his peccadilloes, I hope, and not my interview skills.) Or maybe it's because, in his yen for prolificacy, he releases sub-standard material. Either way, the listener prepared to make the effort will be rewarded richly.

This, his third solo album, is a good starting point. A comparatively straight-forward pop affair, it's full of deceptively simple tracks to burrow their way into your heart.

Rhys takes a light touch on this album, and it's the strength of his arrangements coupled with an ability to spring surprises, as well as his instinct for the sweetest of hooks, that will have the listener returning time and again.

The album title is inspired by his fondness for collecting hotel toiletries while on the road, but there's nothing disposable about songs that call to mind such figures as Burt Bacharach and Serge Gainsbourg.

There are delights to be found throughout this short album. Shark Ridden Waters, for instance, offers a compelling exercise in merging found sounds and snatched voices with organic instruments, while Space Dust #2 is a gorgeous duet between Rhys and Swedish singer Sarah Assbring, aka El Perro Del Mar.

Burn it: Space Dust #2; Shark Ridden Waters; Sophie Softly

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