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Neon Neon - Stainless Style

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Artist: Neon Neon

Album: Stainless Style

Label: Lex

Review date: Mar. 10, 2008

Neon Neon's Stainless Style is a concept album home to at least two or three different concepts. First, the band itself is sort-of a novelty collaboration between Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals and eclectic electronic producer Boom Bip. Second, the disc is for the most part inspired by early-'80s electro-pop (albeit with a few striking deviations.) Finally and most importantly, Stainless Style is a rock opera meant to detail the rise and fall of urban-mythological figure John DeLorean.

DeLorean is famous for creating a line of eponymous automobile that appeared in Back to the Future and then getting busted smuggling cocaine in them (the second part of his tale being the kind of apocryphal fact that circulated around playgrounds until the internet made it widely verifiable). Stainless Style offers a decent enough attempt to tell the tale of DeLorean through his era’s pop vocab, but it's suspicious. Neon Neon seems like a project band that wants to have it both ways; to keep the early '80s at a smirking, nostalgic distance, but to also capitalize on those legitimately interested in retro-electronics.

Stainless Style begins with “Neon Theme,” a warbling 8-bit electro track that brings to mind the Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! training montage and appropriately enough, the Rad Racer theme song. “Dream Girls” and “Steel Your Girl” follows with thematically appropriate, playfully tongue-in-cheek lyrics. The Doo Wop-driven synth hits of “Dream Girls” underpin the spooneristic chorus, "Dream girls in cool cars / Cool girls in dream cars." The more syrupy Psychedelic Furs inspired, “Steel Your Girl” is equally punny from the title on down. Both tracks pull off surging John Hughes soundtrack sentimentality bolstered by Rhys’ melodramatic croon.

Backed by analogue synths, his voice takes on a character that differs slightly from its Super Furry incarnation. That’s not to say that the Welsh singer sounds at all out of place set against a New Romantic backdrop. His vocals make “I Told Her on Alderaan,” save the goofy Star Wars reference, sound convincingly like any number of mid- to late-’80s pop bands, something in the neighborhood of China Crisis, or Adrian Belew’s The Bears. Another solid foil for Rhys’s vocal swoops is found on "Raquel,” a track that parrots late-’80s world-music worship with synthed congas, not to mention utilizing just about every click, pop and handclap available on an analogue synthesizer and structuring the track around a classically Hi-NRG synth arpeggio.

The smarminess with which Stainless Style handles its main set of influences gets grating. But the disc takes on an even more plasticene character on the occasions when it abandons those influences entirely. A few outlying, anachronistic tracks make the disc come off like a confused attempt to yank in mainstream dance listeners alongside those drawn to its day-glo anachronisms.

"Trick or Treat,” for instance, begins as a perplexingly placed but nonetheless promising Timbaland/Timberlake club banger. Decaying into a slew of weak, phoned-in, horrendously goofy raps about cocaine, the track loses its footing, and continues on for about three minutes after the beat grows tired. A solid remix would make the track worth keeping on hand for the right night, but still wouldn’t explain by what logic it ended up stuffed between two slices of New Wave worship. "Luxury Pool" is a likewise misplaced hip hop track, delivered like an afterthought.

With even the project's name sounding less newly romantic and more "I Love the '80s," Neon Neon's flourishes of excellent songwriting and production seem wasted on novelty. Stainless Style’s problem isn’t the music so much as it is the ambivalent authenticity; it's impossible to determine if it’s supposed to pay tribute to, make fun of, or be fully situated in the time and place of John DeLorean’s rise and fall. Because of this, it’s hard to know on what levels it should be enjoyed, and on what levels it should be dismissed.

By Matthew A. Stern

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