Review Summary: A glimpse of Gruff Rhys' world.
In the past two decades, Gruff Rhys has proven to be one quirky character. Forever locked up in his own cartoonish world, he manages to transpose his characters and stories (mostly with the help of fellow Super Furry Animals band mates but also by himself) into a wide range of music styles from rocky affairs to lush ballads and even unpredictable electronic outings. Now that Super Furry Animals are on a hiatus, Gruff decided to continue his solo career, releasing his second studio record, Hotel Shampoo
. The name derives from his habit consisting of collecting shampoos from various hotels he stayed in during tours. Therefore, each song has its own "bottle", represented on the cover.
Lowering the volume this time, the album is rather tame, relying mostly on soft pop with lots of jazzy and lounge influences. Most of the songs feature the piano as a primary instrument and are enriched with acoustic guitars, occasional violins and saxophones and various keyboard tweaks, yet the results are very diverse. Even though is not that adventurous as some of Super Furry Animals' records, especially Guerrilla
, Rings Around The World
or even their latest Dark Days/Light Years
, Hotel Shampoo
offers some really honest, beautiful moments coming from some lovely, catchy tunes. First single and album highlight Shark Ridden Waters is a vintage summer pop tune that could as well go as a movie soundtrack (see the video), featuring several dialogues in between characters interspersed with Gruff's lovely voice singing "And I don't know what happens to me when you come along it's just the way the sunlight catches your hair". He sounds humble, much like the simplistic music and the overall result is, simply put, a beautiful tune. "Sensations In The Dark" follows up in the same vein more or less, featuring a mariachi brass section churning out the same Tropicalia, that made the SFA song "Northern Lites" such a gorgeous song. After all these years the man has a lot of ideas that breathe new life over these already tried and tested formulas. "Christopher Columbus" is another interesting track, making more use of electronics, with Gruff linking his former love's betrayal and the questions that remained unanswered in between them to the Medieval explorer's story. Lyrics like these make Rhys a funny storyteller and for the better of it, the album is full of moments like these.
However, Hotel Shampoo
is at its most charming with the slower tunes that develop a less seen side of Gruff, usually disrupted by more experimental moments found on Super Furry Animals records. Both "Take A Sentence" and "Space Dust #2", among others, make great use of jazzy instrumentation, bringing to mind really old 1920s or 1930s movie soundtracks. His voice accompanies really well the music creating some of his most mature works so far. Still, the sparse closer "Rubble Rubble" steals the spotlights, being one of his most sincere moments. With only a piano and a basic drum pattern he drops the most nostalgic tune on Hotel Shampoo
, declaring his love for his partner no matter how tough life is. The powerful lyrics bring out the best in him, leaving aside for a moment his usually joyful persona: "When the rain drops on winter nights,/I can hear you crying.[...]Though we built a perfect space,/To escape the faster pace, Still the tears they fall away into the shadows of our broken hearts.[...]When the slates fall from our old roof, / I can hear you crashing,[...]From a life that's so complete, /To the brink of near defeat. /Still the tears they fall away into the rubble of our broken bones." It's not something you usually hear from him and this is what makes "Rubble Rubble" such a wonderful track. Even if it's doesn't sound like much at a first listen, the song really grows on the listener.
There is no weak track on Hotel Shampoo
, only some that shine more than the others. Still, the record flows naturally and offers many thrills from the ever unpredictable Gruff Rhys. Maybe it could have use more experimentation, but the heart of the album resides in his pop sensibility that turns each idea into gold. Too bad the Super Furry Animals are on a hiatus, because some of the ideas here could have used some tweaks and changes turning them into a real masterpiece.