Monday, April 08, 2013

Dr. Zhivago

Song: Dr. Zhivago
Artist: Neon Neon
Album: Praxis Makes Perfect

I was way late to the party with Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip's (a.k.a. Neon Neon) "Stainless Style," the Mercury Prize-nominated album the two did in 2008, a concept album about the life and times of John DeLorean.  But man, what a record.  A synth-pop masterpiece centered around one of the oddest characters in American modern manufacturing history.  If you don't know it, drop what you're doing immediately and check out this record: Neon Neon – Stainless Style

I loved that album, and subsequently loved Rhys' 2011 solo album "Hotel Shampoo."  (This all after my friend, and reader Rob, tried his best to get me into his 90s band Super Furry Animals.  Whom I still need to try again listening to.)

Anyhow, it was with much surprise to just about everyone when earlier this year Neon Neon posted a picture of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, with the subtitle "NN2," hinting at a new record.

So here we are with "Praxis Makes Perfect," a brand new album from the band, keeping it's synth-pop feel and this time yes; about the life and times of publisher and left-wing political activist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, another interesting figure with a varied and mysterious life history.  But can lightening strike twice?

Well, I'm not sure.  Two odd things; 1) the synth-pop thing worked so well for John DeLorean because the overall arch of his history was tied to the excess of the 80s.  While I love synth-pop, the questions arrises how it works within the concept of a man that died in the early 70s.  And 2) there just isn't anything here as mind-blowing as "Rachel," as catchy as "Dream Cars" or "I Told Her on Alderaan" and possibly as off-the-rails as "I Lust You" or "Sweat Shop."

BUT, I've recently had a moment with "Praxis," after several listens where things have started to come together.  In some ways it could be described as a more adult record that "Stainless."  It's less immediately in your face, and therefore takes a bit more time to feel out.  And like "Stainless," "Praxis" gains weight the more you learn about the mysterious figure at the heart of the concept, and then how the songs relate to an aspect of his life.  (This is helped pretty quickly with a perusal of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli's Wikipedia article.)

It's hard not to compare the two albums, but letting "Praxis Makes Perfect" speak for itself helps reveal its charms a bit more.  I'm about... a third way there I'd say.  If nothing else I've been challenged by this record, you should let yourself be as well.

The album was co-written by playwright Tim Price, with theater performances scheduled.


Unfortunately little of the album is available to stream anywhere.  (It was mysteriously on Spotify very early but is now gone.)  Hear the single below.

Mid Century Modern Nightmare
Gruff Rhys on Praxis Makes Perfect

No comments: