Hotel Shampoo

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With the onset of age, with all the uncertainties that growing up and growing older entail, many find comfort in the groove of routine. For rock stars, of course, this is a terrible and frankly dangerous habit, leading even the ones you once loved to disappoint you, churning out the same shtick year upon advancing year with ever diminishing returns (Mark Oliver Everett, I’m looking at you). It’s lucky, then, that for the 40 year old Gruff Rhys ‘routine’ involves continuing to restlessly defy expectations, with recent work ranging from psychedelic grooves to white-boy electro-funk to upbeat acoustic musings on mid-air calamity. Still, for all the continued genre-hopping between Super Furry Animals, Neon Neon and his solo work, it’s hard not to feel that, while the restless creativity still shines through, just a little of the fire might have died. Although there was nothing ostensibly wrong with Dark Days/LightYears, Stainless Style or Candylion, it would be generous to suggest that any of the above contained a “Slow Life” or an “Ice Hockey Hair”. Loved-up since Love Kraft, the ante-post suggestions of Hotel Shampoo were of suits, piano ballads, and conquering a long-held (but, let’s be honest, correctly placed) fear of the saxophone. This being Gruff Rhys, that was never likely to be the whole story, but it does hold some truth; the predominant mood here is one of contentment, the piano is to the fore throughout and Bacharach looms large, particularly in the wistful trumpet of “Take a Sentence” and “At the Heart of Love”. However, Gruff has never been content just to lounge around; the righteous guitar of “Patterns of Power” and the pleasingly bonkers stomp of “Christopher Columbus” stand out by throwing all this tranquillity into sharp relief. However, such moments don’t come often enough, and there are times when the album has a tendency to drift towards inconsequence. Grandaddy-lite keyboards bubble under the surface of “Vitamin K”, while “Sophie Softly” and “Conservation Conversation” demonstrate that for Gruff happiness is still a worn pun, but all feel like they could have been beamed in from any point, or off any project, throughout his career. Of course, inconsistency is a by-product of invention, but much of this album lacks the spark or the whirling defiance that makes his back catalogue so engaging. Gruff Rhys has always been a winning combo of innovation and melody, of the mischievous and the charming, with his success being down to his ability to happily marry the conflicting elements of his character. Hotel Shampoo continues to do this, but there is the suggestion that the elder statesman, the father, the grown-up in Rhys is beginning to win out. The gentler moments largely hold their own, not least album highlight “If We Words (We Would Rhyme)”, and when innovation is deployed it is genuinely rewarding, but too often you are itching for him to really cut loose.  Still, if anyone has earned the right to our indulgence as they move into their dotage, it is Gruff.

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Gruff Rhys
Rough Trade