Gruff Rhys — Babelsberg (8th June 2018) ♦♥♦ Wit, originality and indelible tunes. That doesn’t mean to say Babelsberg is a downtrodden or despondent album. Tracks such as “Negative Vibes” or “Limited Edition Heart” soar with an unashamed timelessness that calls to mind records from the likes of Malcolm Middleton, or even at times, Serge Gainsbourg.
♦♥♦ Exclusive Details: Very special deluxe 12” x 24” holographic panoramic vinyl package limited to only 500 worldwide. Due to the unique specifications of this item it will be sent by courier rather than Royal Mail. As a result the shipping cost will be £12 in the UK.
♦♥♦ Babelsberg is the fifth album by Gruff Rhys, his first record for Rough Trade since 2007’s classic Candylion. The album features orchestral scores by Swansea based composer Stephen McNeff and the incredible work of the 72 piece BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The result is Gruff’s best record to date — a ten song gazetteer of modern times, each track set to timeless, indelible melody. Amazingly, for a collection of songs written over two years ago, each one seems to pull very sharp focus on the times we’re living in.
Birth name: Gruffydd Maredudd Bowen Rhys
Born: July 18, 1970 in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Location: Cardiff, Bethesda, Gwynedd, Wales
Instruments: guitar, vocals, keyboard, saz, drums, harmonica
Album release: 8th June 2018
Record Label: Rough Trade
01. Frontier Man 3:35
02. The Club 4:04
03. Oh Dear! 3:16
04. Limited Edition Heart 3:38
05. Take That Call 3:43
06. Drones In The City 3:50
07. Negative Vibes 5:16
08. Same Old Song 4:10
09. Architecture Of Amnesia 4:42
10. Selfies In The Sunset 4:49
Michael Hann, Fri 8 Jun 2018 09.00 BST, Score: ****
♣ Perhaps Gruff Rhys has suffered as a result of his reputation as one of pop’s eccentrics. His band Super Furry Animals were always willing to confound, and his solo career — this is his fifth album, plus the Set Fire to the Stars soundtrack — has appeared dictated as much by whimsy as foresight. That’s meant his love of melody is sometimes overshadowed by the novelty: cor, you’ll never guess what he’s done now!
♣ So one might be forgiven for approaching Babelsberg with a certain amount of trepidation, especially given that the promo bumf includes such poptastic phrases as “state~sponsored murder”, “numbing helplessness”, and “I was working on an opera about a post~apocalyptic Wales”.
♣ You wouldn’t get that mood of despair from the music. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales make the whole thing sound like the lushest of early~70s MOR productions, and Frontier Man — musically, at least — could be one of Jimmy Webb’s songs for Glen Campbell, right down to the little hiccup in the drums before the first chorus, pinched straight from Galveston.
♣ But this is not the frontier of Webb’s songs, where men learned hard lessons about themselves working on telephone lines or fighting in wars, but the outer edges of male delusion, where the only thing learned is entitlement. The further you get into the album, the more you realise how integral the orchestral arrangements are: as with Love’s Forever Changes, whose sound Babelsberg sometimes recalls, songs such as The Club and Oh Dear! would be solid but unremarkable 60s beat pop without the ornamentation that allows them to transcend their foundations. But, of course, Rhys’s gift is that he has the imagination to put full orchestral arrangements — 72 musicians! — on top of those slight songs to elevate them.
♣ If anything, Babelsberg’s weaknesses lie in its lyrics, where the mood of anxiety and despair is vague and inchoate, and too diffuse to actually have an impact — it’s a record of impressions, rather than specifics. Where Rhys does get specific, suddenly the words hit home, as on Same Old Song, on which Rhys recounts how “coughing blood on an American tour / Left me bewildered / concerned for my future”. And like Forever Changes again, one keeps wondering whether an album so dismally inclined should be such a pleasure to listen to. ♣ https://www.theguardian.com/
By Ian King / 03 JUNE 2018, 09:10 BST, Score: ****
♣ Having traversed a myth~laced American Interior on his previous solo album, Gruff Rhys now ventures out to Babelsberg, a realm of unsettled atmospheres, future frontiers and selfies taken in blazing sunsets. (excerpt)
Website: http://www.gruffrhys.com/ / Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Gruffingtonpost
♦ 2005 Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (Placid Casual / Rough Trade)
♦ 2007 Candylion (Rough Trade)
♦ 2010 The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness (Ovni / Turnstile)
♦ 2011 Hotel Shampoo (Ovni / Turnstile)
♦ 2014 American Interior (Caroline / Universal)
♦ 2018 Babelsberg (Rough Trade)