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Album Review: Gruff Rhys – Hotel Shampoo

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Super Furry Animals is a unique specimen with an insurmountable catalog of trippy alternative. Its leading Welshman, Gruff Rhys (who may be a front-runner for coolest first name ever, next to Ozzy), has now bounded from his band’s fold thrice with the installment of his newest solo outing, Hotel Shampoo.

The man named his album after a compulsion to hoard single-serving soaps from hotels whilst on tour, which is either totally “rock star”, or the dumbest thing any rock star has done to his homes away from home. Well, at least Rhys’ resulting record sounds good. Does it measure up to his previous work with Super Furry Animals? That’s kind of an “apples and oranges” predicament here, unless you include the SFA single “Fire In My Heart”, and exclude said band’s propensity for writing albums entirely in the native language of Wales. No such outstanding weirdness for Americans here, just a little retro for your iTunes dollar.

While remaining steadfastly illegible throughout the majority of Hotel Shampoo,  the vibe coasts on something akin to Damon Albarn throwing a ’70s house party in the world of Boogie Nights. We have slow jazz and funky porno (“Vitamin K”, “Patterns Of Power”), some beach mixed with Beatles (“Honey All Over”), a bit of Howard Bennington Brit-pop whimsy (“Sensations In The Dark”), and an allusion to friends-with-benefits arrangements gone sour (“Shark Ridden Waters”). This could be the new 2011 CD for summer loving (alongside Paper Tiger’s debut), but don’t hold me to that (I’m holding off on guaranteeing another Baby Boom too soon).

The album art and atmosphere reflect an Austin Powers side to Rhys’ direction, throwing liberal doses of color and Blur into his blends, even turning to both lounge lizard flavor and Brian Wilson sunshine (“Space Dust #2”, “At The Heart Of Love”). Unfortunately, picking through the lyrics to glean any deeper meaning remains a challenge; if any of these so-called sexy tunes exhibit more illicit actions, blame it on subliminal messages, because the vocals are frequently on the indecipherable side.

Hotel Shampoo is most often anchored on piano and the sort of word humor one might find in a Lodger tune, and its lightheartedness does nicely counter-balance Radiohead’s latest eight-song melancholy. That being said, the best thing Rhys has to offer is a pleasantness worth returning in kind, like being generous enough to share your Grey Poupon with the creepy old man in the limousine opposite your Pinto. Go take a bubble bath, light some candles, put on Hotel Shampoo, and remember: You don’t always have to chuck a television out the Sheraton window to make your point. Sometimes, subtlety works just as well, even as much as swiping soap while cloaked in paisley and corduroy.

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