Review: Neon Neon – Praxis Makes Perfect
Published on April 24th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Like Neon Neon’s bolt-from-the-blue 2008 debut Stainless Style, Praxis Makes Perfect gets underway with an urgent, ‘theme tuney’ instrumental number, albeit this latest one errs more towards the menacing than the cartoony. Like Stainless Style, Praxis Makes Perfect is named for a pun. Unlike Stainless Style, Praxis Makes Perfect is yet to make us fall head over heels in love with it. At least not yet.
Based on the life of left-wing political activist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, Praxis Makes Perfect is a fair bit mellower than its predecessor, with Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip going from sounding in debt to the ’80s to outright mimicking it. Take for instance the drum machine, twinkly keys and plastic soul crooning of “Dr Zhivago”; it could conceivably have been the work of a band from the era who’d been reared on ELO (as indeed were Super Furry Animals), even throwing in a “today-ay-ay!” that, following as it does the line “There had to be another way to get a point across / So justice could prevail”, has surely found one of its more incongruous settings.
The immediately ensuing “Hoops With Fidel”, for its part, can be read in one of two ways: either it’s a tremendous extension of “Dr Zhivago”, because its chorus follows the same descending progression as Dr Z’s verse, or it is a shameless rehashing of its own preceding track. As this is essentially a concept album – and as “Hoops With Fidel” is otherwise a beaming sort of psych-samba – we have to give it the benefit of the doubt. Also for the “communism on the beach” line.
There does seem to be an agenda of authenticity in terms of the songwriting and production, touching on such luminaries as Kraftwerk and Gary Numan on the dotty, squidgy electro of “Shopping (I Like To)”. A duet between Sabrina Salerno and Rhys’s heavily effected vocal, this “Let’s Fighting Love”-ishly titled track can be seen as the “I Lust U” of the album, consolidating its winning status with the lyric “In your eyes / I see a franchise”.
“Mid Century Modern Nightmare” is a fun blast in just under two minutes, ending like a manifesto remix of Primal Scream’s “Loaded”. There’s even a touch of the “Inaugural Trams” about it. However, its chord progression strikes as one that Rhys has mined once or twice in the past, albeit that only now feels like a problem. As we said, though, it’s just a quick blast of fun concealing some pointed lyrics so we’re loathe to denounce it, especially when it’s followed by the utterly blissed-out “The Leopard”. Is this the first pop song to rhyme “shepherd” with “leopard”? Do write in if you know of another.
Furthermore, “In every room of the house in Sicily / They had a leopard on a red piece of livery” is Neil Hannon-esque; who’d-a thunk it? Not that Rhys isn’t a brilliant lyricist as well – he’s one of the best around, as it happens – just in a very different way. He’s really mastered his craft, but then we knew that from the luxuriant sonic waterfalls of his 2011 solo LP Hotel Shampoo. Heck, we’ve known it since “Demons”, if not even earlier.
Saxophone was once an aversion for Rhys but it spazzes out to great effect (as it did on Hotel Shampoo cut “Christopher Columbus”) on “Listen to the Rainbow”, which is distinguished also by its rubbery bass, skipping beat and Rhys’s ecstatic falsetto harmonies. We could mention that he sounds like Jarvis Cocker at the beginning of set-closer “Ciao Feltrinelli”, but this review is Gruff-centric enough as it is. An inevitable pitfall of fan-dom, perhaps, and Praxis Makes Perfect is currently registering more as entertaining than revelatory in the wider context of the man’s doings.
Then again, Hotel Shampoo took time to truly reveal itself, so for all we know this’ll wind up being one our albums of the year. As things stand at this early stage, though…
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!