It feels ridiculous to say it now, but early reports concerning the debut (and presumably sole) album by Neon Neon could easily have suggested a project ready to deliver horrific results. Gruff Rhys has produced two wonderful solo LPs over the past decade, proof that he is at his best when in control instead of a co-pilot; Super Furry Animals are a band for which democracy does not work, seeing as the degree to which the rest of the band have had songwriting credits and a chance to do vocals has been inversely proportional to the quality of their longplaying output. That it would be with Boom Bip who, despite making incredible and cerebral leftfield hip-hop with Doseone, had already turned out a disappointing collaboration with Rhys – the downbeat aural dishwater of Do’s And Don’ts, a track sounding so un-arsed it was almost comatose – made this a more unnerving prospect. Add to that rumours of an appearance by Har Mar Superstar and a general ‘vibe’ in thrall to Eighties saccharine like Debbie Gibson and Janet Jackson, and concern was heightened further.
It turns out that there was no need to worry though, as they definitely pulled it out of the gold lamé bag, making a concept album that told through Gruff’s trademark lateral lyrical imagery and Bip’s newfound super-sleek production the rise and fall of automobile godhead John DeLorean. Stainless Style not only portrayed glamour, sleaze, debauchery and downfall vividly but held, in instances like I Told Her On Alderaan, the same perfect pop sorcery to rival their own biggest influences (McCartney II, Songs From The Big Chair, the Back To The Future soundtrack, the PWL back catalogue). While not as evocative a narrative as, say, the closing track, where DeLorean is fancifully buried in one of his own cars, the song instead tells with panache a love story based on Princess Leia’s home planet Alderaan, presumably about DeLorean’s second wife and radio KPBI’s advertising mascot Kelly Harmon (“If you ever got a bad reception / She’d flash a smile and change the perception”).
Since then, thanks in the most part to La Roux and the return of both Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, the Eighties have been dragged formulaically back into the populist imagination with a style-over-substance zeal not seen since Romo. Just a year earlier, for Neon Neon to have not only seen the potential in an oft-maligned era of pop and a disgraced car manufacturer but done the both of them justice, seemed nothing short of extraordinary.
[Album: Stainless Style]