Unlike one of those very stylish DeLorean sports cars, which looked great but in hindsight lacked horsepower and tended to fall apart shortly after purchase, Neon Neon’s Stainless Style is a glossily waxed ’n’ buffed electro-pop hybrid that flirts with the fluffily lightweight but which actually boasts unexpectedly high mileage (though that may vary), a rugged durability and an imposingly un-Teutonic dashboard.
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Boom Bip, left, and Gruff Rhys made a concept album about a car.
That last bit about the dashboard was lifted directly from a General Motors advertising brochure, circa 1982, a daring, inventive time in our culture’s history, or at least its ad copy. Don’t believe it? Just take the roughly contemporary story of veteran auto-industry kingpin John DeLorean, who had by the early ’80s decided to forego the drab life of a Detroit autocompany CEO and launch his infamous line of superstylish, masculine and sexy motor vehicles; he would call it the DeLorean, it would revolutionize the car business and it would make him a zillion dollars.
You know the rest: how DeLorean established a manufacturing plant in Ireland to assemble his cars; how these expensive motoring toys failed to sell in substantial numbers, and that failure forced the charismatic, high-living and dashing playboy DeLorean to engage in such desperate company-saving fund-raising schemes as attempting to deal vast tonnages of cocaine, most unfortunately, to FBI agents; and how John crashed, burned and rose again like a phoenix after spending a lot of time in prison, where he became a born-again, then died.
Neon Neon is an inspired, collaborative pairing of Wales’ Super Furry Animals’ frontman Gruff Rhys and L.A. DJ/electronics fella Boom Bip. They’ve taken the DeLorean story and made a good old-fashioned concept album out of it, the torrid tale seemingly tailor-made for launching hit after cheese-puff hit of electro-pop goodness. For all its good-humored party vibe, though, what’s even more surprising than the album’s stunningly authentic ’80s-era instrumental textures is the frequently moving — poignant, even — effect of the DeLorean story told in sound and words.
In Stainless Style, misty memories of the ’80s — let’s face it, they were basically a dismal time for all concerned — become, like nostalgia for any era regardless of reality, a bubbling forth of sweetness and innocence, and in this case a blossoming sensuality, not to mention a boldly groundbreaking, lurid sexuality. You might say the album’s instrumental textures are as if discovered in a time capsule from 20 years ago, such is the faithfully wide-screen shine, sparkle and glimmer from the presumably vintage gear used in its production.
Neat sounds, yeah yeah yeah, that take you way back to your glorious youth, or maybe your parents’ Simple Minds records. With the aid of corn-dog but cool analog synth arpeggiations and awful/ace drum pads on the opening “Neon Theme,” you can just see yourself driving forward, sneering at the squares trailing behind in your rearview, and knowing that obviously you’re a man or perhaps a woman of excitement, of, of . . . drive! Neon Neon break more musical ground, surely, by then directly modeling the chorus of the epic-cinema rock “Dream Cars” on a TV advertising spiel, with Rhys’s layered voices so melodiously hypnosis-inducing: “In dream car ... your chariot awaits.”
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The time-warping of “I Told Her on Alderaan,” all tightly strummed guitars and drums ripped plainly from the Police, could of course easily be a smash hit of Modern Rock (do they still call it that?), and the Yazoo/Soft Cell skeletal drum programs and synth lines of “I Lust U” are a contrivance, and the album as a whole is a cartoon — and it works uncommonly well on such superficial (sonic) terms. But it’s the unusually fertile songwriting of Rhys that gives these stories a memorability, a depth and feeling of substance.
If you’re familiar with the Superfurries’ peculiarly natural blend of piquant pop/rock with smartly snarling electro-dance hip-swivelers, these tunes won’t seem so off the wall, but they will sound funny (as in ha-ha) as Rhys and Bip tell DeLorean’s pitiful tale in well-structured and way catchy ditties that, while afloat in shiny Italo-disco and Egyptian Lover–type rappy crackle and pop, actually make one feel a bit of, well, sympathy for this buffoon DeLorean. In “Steel Your Girl,” Rhys is a wellspring of hummable ditties, yet he’s typically sweetly edgy; the airy, shimmery effect of the sound is beautiful; the repetitive vocal refrains are entrancing, as if to haunt, not merely taunt. You can pop-lock to the retro-electro-rap of “Trick for Treat,” yet the tension of its overlapped synth sequences relentlessly buzzes the head; Rhys provides the contrasting Greek chorus of conscience and reason.
So, this thing rocks for the way Neon Neon both heap scorn on and revel in the wild ambition and, yes, sexy charisma of a figure such as John DeLorean. Indeed, as DeLorean himself told the undercover FBI agents after he’d sold them 24 million bucks’ worth of high-grade cocaine, “It’s good as gold.”
NEON NEON | Stainless Style | Lex