[10 August 2010]
Gruff Rhys has managed to continually imbue all his work with a renegade spirit, from the early days of taking tanks to festivals, through days hanging out with Howard Marks and right up to his partnership with Boom Bip in Neon Neon, extolling the life story of John Delorean. So when it was announced that he’d recorded an album with an unknown Brazilian VCR repairman, nobody really batted an eyelid.
The general consensus has always been that Gruff has enough of a gift with melody, as displayed on his Welsh language albums with Super Furry Animals and his other solo projects, which could be enjoyed without understanding the sentiments therein, that any of his musical projects can be more than enjoyable while still taking risks. It’s this sense of melody that worked on projects as diverse as the Neon Neon album and Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse’s Dark Night of the Soul record. Unfortunately, this is the failing of The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness where more should be read into the ‘vs’ in the album’s title. Both artists share songwriting duties throughout, resulting in a hugely lopsided listening experience.
The album starts brightly enough with “O Que Tu Tem”, a Tony Da Gattora composition which introduces both his home-made instrument, “The Gatorra”, (a halfway house between keyboard and guitar) and his predilection for shouting out his message of peace in a delivery similar to Mark E. Smith, yet without any of the power. Its stuttering rhythm, along with Gruff’s distorted guitars, give it momentum and a post-punk feel not far from an angry Trans Am.
It’s followed by Gruff’s “In a House With No Mirrors (You’ll Never Get Old)” as part of a songwriting to-and-fro which continues throughout the album. This is the real gem of the album, a rasping, punk tune with a chorus as infectious as Super Furry Animals staples’ “Smokin’” or “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck”. After this track, though, problems start to arise. “Espirito Luz” has little other than a dull beat and ghostly backing vocals to take the focus away from Tony Da Gatorra’s voice, and on this number, it really shows its limitations. He has little gift for building a vocal melody or for understanding how to work his voice into the music. As an instrumental, the song would have been far more successful.
The album was recorded in one day in July 2007, with some extra mixing and overdubs done later, and this really shows as the album progresses. Songs such as “Eu Protesto” and “Voz Dos Semterra” suffer from lack of ideas, their only interesting moments coming from Gruff Rhys’ fuzzed-up guitar. It leaves you despising Da Gatorra’s dull voice, an incessant bark that is nowhere near strong enough to be so ever-present on the album. You’ll start to count the minutes each time one of his compositions begins, and even start to loathe the “Gatorra” (his instrument) which, after a while, begins to sound like a gibbering robot with a sock in its mouth.
The best moments clearly come from Gruff Rhys, such as the Arthur Russell sound-a-like “6868” and techno-T. Rex of “Oh! Warra Hoo!”, with its electro-pop chorus bringing to mind Goldfrapp. The instrumental “OVNI”, coming off like a BBC Radiophonic Workshop out-take, also has to be recommended, although perhaps while listening to this album, you just begin to appreciate how nice it is when Tony Da Gatorra is not shouting at you. Sorry Tony!