[sic] Magazine

Neon Neon – Praxis Makes Perfect

OK, Praxis Makes Perfect , the new album by Neon Neon doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs. Focusing on the life and times of ‘man of letters and agent of change’ Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (1926 – 1972) – Italian publisher (he was the visionary who put out the manuscript of the novel Doctor Zhivago ), anti-fascist and left-wing activist – hardly seems ideal foundations for a synth-rock concept album-cum-musical.

But Neon Neon are the Super Furry Animals resident Welsh genius Gruff Rhys and his fellow compardre Boom Bip – a pair of fiendishly inventive and playful musicians. This is their second album following the previous concept album Stainless Style on the theme of the DeLorean , a car everyone admired but no one bought, which was somewhat akin to the record sales which followed despite a Mercury nomination. It is doubtful that this album will sell by the bucketful, but more fool those who don’t give it a whirl since it’s a lush beast, full of warmth and humour.

The pounding ‘The Jaguar’ is almost vintage SFA and an irresistibly sweet synth-pop song with Gruff’s inimitable soft tone vocals full of that West Wales lilt. In addition, how many songwriters would introduce lines “ I stood in the shade of fascist architecture “? In terms of ‘Dr Zhivago’, it actually sounds a bit like Spandau Ballet ‘s ‘Gold’ at the outset until it locks into a glorious pop flow and potential single. Even better are both ‘Hoops With Fidel’ and ‘Hammer And Sickle’, two songs which despite the largely serious lyrical content (the latter is about Feltrinelli’s changing relationship to the Italian Communist Party!), you could happily play on full volume at the beach with their exuberant waves of fuzzy warm electronica.

There are always in any work by experimentalist Gruff Rhys some missteps and the bubblegum pop of `Shopping (I Like To)’ featuring Italian pop superstar Sabrina Salerno is a bit too close to the Pet Shop Boys for comfort. Better is the harder ‘Mid Century Modern Nightmare’, although you feel that Kim Wilde could have done a great version of this in her heyday. It features Asia Argento reading out extracts from a call-to-arms that Feltrinelli broadcast in Genoa in 1970, using a pirate transmitter wired up to his Fiat car to generate support for the violent left wing grouping Gruppi d’Azione Partigiana (GAP).

One of the highlights of the set is the brilliant ‘The Leopard’, almost an electronic love song with haunting backing vocals and a deep synth shuffle. The standout is the saddest song on the album ‘Caio Feltrinelli’ which deals with the Italian’s suspicious death. Feltrinelli increasingly believed a right-wing coup was imminent in this deeply troubled era of Italian history characterised by the Red Brigades and state violence and his attempt to bring Cuban revolutionary tactics to Italy cost him his life as he was allegedly blown up by his own explosives. The song touches on all this but its strength is probably that it could have happily appeared on any Super Furry Animal album and not been out of place.

In the last analysis quite how Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip have brought such colour and verve to what should be a rather po-faced subject matter is both surprising and defies musical gravity. Praxis Makes Perfect proves that revolutionary politics is actually tremendous fun and for those who love the super inventive imagination of Gruff Rhys will find much here to emphatically re-proclaim that he is the best musical asset this side of the Severn bridge.