Release Date: Apr 30, 2013
Record label: Lex
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Alternative Dance
Released in early 2008, Neon Neon’s debut album, Stainless Style, put to music the life of John DeLorean, millionaire playboy and creator of the iconic DeLorean DMC-12 car. By the end of that year, the world was in financial meltdown; now Europe’s on the brink of accepting magic beans for currency. It seems appropriate, then, that Praxis Makes Perfect gives the pop-biography treatment to Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.
Concept albums, by and large, have a bad reputation: self-indulgent, bloated, and lost in their own sense of importance. Pink Floyd, for example, had a penchant for them and with it earned, fairly or otherwise, the contempt of the 1970s hipster crowd. The tag of onanistic prog rockers has remained with them through to this day; therefore it must be seen as something of a risk for any contemporary outfit to tread a similar path.
Neon Neon's musical portrait of John DeLorean, Stainless Style, was so unique in its aims and successful in its execution that it seemed like a one-of-a-kind achievement -- that is, until Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip's Bryan Hollon reunited a few years later to set the life of the aristocratic, communist Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli to song. They triumph again with Praxis Makes Perfect, but aside from the biographical concept and the largely electronic arrangements, they don't repeat themselves much. Feltrinelli might be a more obscure figure than DeLorean, but he's no less fascinating, and these songs have a more overtly theatrical flair befitting his life's operatic sweep.
Familiar with the life and times of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli? You know, the son of a wealthy Italian family who gave up a lavish life to become a leftwing publisher and militant? If you weren’t aware of what Signor Feltrinelli got up to before his suspicious death in 1972, the second album from Neon Neon should certainly inspire you to look into it a little more - Praxis Makes Perfect is based on the events of Feltrinelli’s life in much the same way as the duo's first album of synth-pop wonder was born out of the life of John DeLorean. A sample of the track titles from Praxis Makes Perfect offers tantalizing glimpses into Feltrinelli’s life – ‘Hoops with Fidel’ is a self-explanatory nod to one of the more surreal games of basketball you can imagine, while ‘Dr. Zhivago’ and ‘The Leopard’ refers to two giant works of literature that Feltrinelli brought to the attention of the wider world through his publishing company.
There's probably a reason the biographical album doesn't have a strong pop tradition. Lou Reed and John Cale advocated for the genius of Andy Warhol with some success on on 1990's Songs for Drella, and Neutral Milk Hotel's 1998 indie-rock touchstone In the Aeroplane Over the Sea draws on the life story of Anne Frank. But unlike Hollywood biopics, which strike Oscar gold almost annually, bio-albums are few and far between.
What would Italian multi-millionaire and communist revolutionary Giangiacomo Feltrinelli say if he was told that, four decades after his mysterious death at the foot of a high-voltage power line, allegedly from an exploding pack of malfunctioning dynamite he was carrying at the time, Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys and hip-hop producer Boom Bip would record a postmodern electro-pop paean to his incredible life? Probably “what’s electro-pop?”, then possibly, “I have better things to be worrying about, like radical left-wing politics and not getting blown up under power lines. ”If you’re scratching your head, don’t worry. This is not a political broadcast by the Socialist Workers Party.
It’s a full five years since Neon Neon released Stainless Style; an effortlessly polished concept album about the life and times of charismatic engineer-entrepreneur John DeLorean. It is an LP that has in the intervening years taken on a thick veneer of authenticity, and it now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the sounds of the 1980s to which it is so indebted. The formula clearly wasn’t broken, so it hasn’t been fixed.
In 2008, Welsh-Californian duo Neon Neon (aka Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys and producer Boom Bip) released a funky, synth-laden concept album about car designer John DeLorean. Its successor subjects maverick Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli – the man who, among other things, smuggled the manuscript for Dr Zhivago out of the USSR – to the same analysis. Sabrina "Boys Boys Boys" Salerno and Asia Argento guest, while the title track references the sound of 70s TV current affairs soundbeds.
Praxis doesn't quite make perfect on the second album from Neon Neon, AKA Super Furries frontman Gruff Rhys and LA producer Boom Bip – but there are times when it comes close. Their modus operandi is to choose a remarkable individualthen meld lyrics about their life to swooshing, snapping synth-pop redolent of the 1980s.This made musical sense on their 2008 debut, Stainless Style, the motorik rhythms and slick rapping illuminating the Back-to-the-Future legend of car engineer John DeLorean. This time their subject is the Italian publisher and leftwing activist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, and that satisfying feeling of sound enhancing story is missing.
It’s the eternal pop music conundrum: what do you do when your one-off side project actually becomes one of the most successful things you’ve ever done? The Postal Service learned this lesson the hard way. While Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello’s one-off synth-pop opus Give Up was recently treated to a deluxe 10th anniversary edition, interviews surrounding the release revealed that while the duo did try recording a follow up to the fluke hit, things never really materialized, as the duo soon realized they were doing it for all the wrong reasons, and the vibe just wasn’t the same (which is why cover songs and remixes and other assorted ephemera was trickled out over the years without much fanfare). In short, the project was lightning in a bottle, and instead of cluttering or distorting its legacy, the duo decided to leave it be, noting that everything looked perfect from far away.
Chirpy, dancey, electropop concept albums about fascist architecture, dictators and Italian revolutionaries are, obviously, pretty two-a-penny, so it’s refreshing to find one that finally rises to the challenge and does something new with the themes. Yep, Neon Neon - the collaboration between knitwear-toting indie demi-god Gruff Rhys and producer Boom Bip (fondness for patterned jumpers currently unconfirmed) - are back. This record sees the attention shift from everyone’s favourite time-machine inventor, John Delorean, to the life and times of Italian publisher and left-wing political activist (thank you a popular web-based research facility) Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.
Neon Neon's debut album, 2008's Stainless Style, was a whimsical but hugely enjoyable concept piece based on the rags-to-riches-and-back-to-bankruptcy life story of automobile executive, visionary and playboy John DeLorean. A collaboration between Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys and electronic music maverick Boom Bip, Neon Neon created a smart, sleek pastiche of mid-eighties synth pop that was stylistically appropriate to its subject matter; a man whose most famous car creation was inextricably linked with iconic 1985 movie Back to the Future, and whose lifestyle seemed to typify the decade's excesses, most notably when DeLorean was embroiled in a cocaine smuggling plot in 1982, from which he was subsequently acquitted. Click here to listen or buy on eMusic Now five years on Neon Neon are back with another biographical concept piece, this time dealing with pioneering Italian publisher and revolutionary sympathiser Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, produced in much the same synth pop style, but with a little less overt pop, fizz, or minor celebrity guest appearances.
The phrase “mixed emotions” can be exemplified with the help of Neon Neon’s highly-anticipated second album, Praxis Makes Perfect. You wait ages in the vague-yet-keen hope that Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip may join musical forces again, only to learn that, although they are actually back in business, their return is marked by an even stranger, more esoteric effort than stellar debut album, Stainless Style, was. As a record wholly inspired by a random, larger-than-life, Italian publisher, the arrival of Praxis Makes Perfect thus induces joy encumbered by confusion.