An album that was given all the breaks yet provided none of the greatness.
As a musical mid-life crisis goes, this one is the equivalent of a red sports car and a blonde twenty-two year old nymphomaniac.
Do we really need another chilled out hipster album? What can said album achieve that others in the past have not? These are questions running through my head as I listen to Hotel Shampoo. Well something had to occupy me as Gruff Rhys whimpered on.
Nearly two decades have passed and a new millennium has begun since Super Furry Animals put aside their Welsh lilts and picked up their guitars. To this day they have been affiliated with innovative electronic sounds, poor hygiene and anarchic falsettos. How the mighty have fallen, as the front man has now produced a bland, over clean, neatly structured symphony of dull.
Supposedly inspired by the shampoo miniatures he collected on tour, Gruff Rhys had clearly decided that a concept album should have the emotional depth of a small jar of Nutella. He wrote and recorded this album during the filming of his musical heritage quest ‘Seperado!’, which makes the album doubly disappointing. This documentary film was effused with talent, taste and visual trickery, so how did Hotel Shampoo get it so wrong? I can only deduce that there must have been nothing left for the label Turnstile Music to work with and too many ‘yes’ men bothered to turn up to Gruff Rhys’ production consultations.
On closer examination the album does not get better, but much, much worse. ‘Shark Ridden Waters’ takes sound bytes from seaside holidays and sycophantic canned laughter, to produce what can only be called as a trivial melody. ‘Honey All Over’ is a sickly and pathetic track. I haven’t heard such overuse of the ‘woman as sugar’ metaphor since Chaka Demus & Pliers. Marching percussion accentuated by light harp trills doesn’t compensate for the unpalatable annoying lyrics and monotone harmony of the word “honey”.
‘Sensations in The Dark’, though elaborating the album’s crooner-esque diatribe, still retains the creepy pervert lyrics which this album has perfected. It doesn’t get any better as you go along, the desperate rhyming starts up and then continues to painfully grate. What’s worse is that the influences are clear. I struggled not to envision myself as a child listening to early Beatles and Grateful Dead in my dad’s car, driving through the English countryside. All I can hear now though is this abysmal imitation of their songs, with Gruff Rhys’ lyrical tributes to greatness stretching as far as-
colour my senses in crayon.
‘Conservation Conversation’ is short, which makes it preferable to many of its siblings, but is still a statement in musical futility. Then there is the Beach Boys style ‘Sophie Softly’, which is a plain disaster that should only be played during sanitary towel adverts. The random addition of a synth instrumental gives the track a quirky edge, making the advert strange, yes, but a Eurotrash kind of strange, like Cillit Bang. Nevertheless this doesn’t redeem the track. ‘With ‘Take A Sentence’, the chorus explains the album almost literally:
Take a sentence and repeat until, the siren sings, the siren sings.
I believe this to be a not so subtle hint that Gruff Rhys should have quit till a better singer turned up. He even heeds his own words in way, by having a duet with El Perro Del Mar for ‘Space Dust #2’. The Swedish vocalist and the simple soft piano accompaniment made this a far superior track to any of the others. A delicacy in the tempo and a great reduction in the forced rhyming couplets, means the number is genuinely sweet instead of saccharine. Then of course Gruff Rhys spoiled it all by following it with the whiney and tawdry song ‘At The Heart Of Love’, which has echoes of Oasis and raspberry throw up.
Terms like “maturity”, “songcraft” and “warmth” have been bandied about to excuse Mr. Rhys of producing this third solo LP. I consider this to be the same terminology doctors used to describe my grandmother. Demented, senile and incontinent are therefore some of the terms that are applicable to Hotel Shampoo. Next time Gruff Rhys, if you decide to release an album based around ‘how clean your bouffant is at Premier Inn’, just don’t.
Turnstile Music, Feb 2011