Editors' pick

Gruff Rhys

Rock
'

Editorial Review

GRUFF RHYS
Album review: "Hotel Shampoo"

Lost love, Latin lilts and critiques of imperialism — “Hotel Shampoo” is another wide-ranging endeavor from longtime Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys. The Welsh singer-songwriter enjoys tweaking expectations almost as much as he relishes combing used-vinyl stores for little-known jewels of 1960s psychedelic pop. But this is the most fully realized of Rhys’s three solo albums, combining disparate ingredients smoothly.

The opening “Shark Ridden Waters” is characteristic: easygoing, yet ambitious. The tune mingles samba beats, a honeyed melody and Rhys’s warm baritone with seaside sounds, snatches of Italian dialogue and a sample from ’60s power-pop band the Cyrkle. It’s a love song of sorts but with a retro spy-movie vibe. “Sensations in the Dark,” another standout, takes a livelier approach, fueled by jaunty mariachi brass and percussion.

The Latin accents were inspired in part by Rhys’s upcoming film about Argentina’s Welsh community, “Separado!” Traveling in South America also got the songwriter thinking about colonialism (“Christopher Columbus”) and poverty (“Patterns of Power”). Aside from the occasional synthesizer or electric-guitar squawk, however, Rhys is never strident. “Hotel Shampoo’’ is full of surprises, but they’re delivered with a wink and a smile.

— Mark Jenkins, May 20, 2011