72. Candylion, Gruff Rhys (Team Love, 2007)
After more than five years fronting Welsh pranksters Ffa Coffi Pawb and another twelve with the like-minded Super Furry Animals, amiable singer-guitarist (and, with short-lived ’80s group Emily, drummer) Gruff Rhys released his first solo record. The ’05 Yr Atal Genhedlaeth is a crisp and energetic 29-minute Welsh-language romp played almost entirely by Rhys. Before his next solo effort, Super Furry Animals released their seventh album LoveKraft (also ’05). A departure for the band, it was their first to feature substantial songwriting and lead vocals from members other than Rhys. They also approached the LoveKraft sessions with a new strategy to collect songs that sounded of a piece rather than individually striking, resulting in the rejection of numerous Rhys compositions from the final lineup. This surplus of songs lent itself to the creation of another Rhys solo record, resulting in Candylion. While much of Yr Atal Genhedlaeth has a sparse, minimal feel due to its origins as a true solo project, the songs on its follow-up possess more fully realized arrangements, many reminiscent of the eclectic, psychedelic pop of LoveKraft. Candylion features a larger supporting cast than Genhedlaeth, most notably the backing vocals of Lisa Jen Brown of Welsh folk-rock group 9Bach on seven tracks. Like LoveKraft, this second Rhys solo LP was co-produced by Mario Caldato, Jr. (best known for his work on several Beastie Boys albums); also like the work of Rhys’s primary band, most of the album is sung in English.
Candylion is a whimsical effort, its playful sleeve showing a cardboard lion and pictures of Rhys assembling it. The album opens with a sample of prog group Seventh Wave’s ’74 tune Things to Come, reduced to a short bongo-and-synth theme like a news program’s intro music, and a spoken introduction by Caldato’s wife Samantha: “Welcome to Candylion, an album of songs for acoustic guitar and voice. But this isn’t a song; this is just the beginning,” before the gentle loping of the title track’s glockenspiel and light-funk drums kicks in. The Court of King Arthur is a jaunty harmonica-tinged shuffle; Beacon in the Darkness is a shuffling country love song with pedal steel; Now That the Feeling Has Gone has a mischievous arrangement alternating between blithe jazz-combo verses and gloomy, portentous choruses. Con Cariño is a pulsing, Spanish-sung lullaby; the latin-flavored Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru, one of two Welsh-sung entries, is the album’s most spirited tune. An ode to automobile cruising, its repeated title (meaning “driving”) sounds like an English exclamation of “goody goody goody!” The fun face of Candylion often disguises darker lyrics: the seemingly sugary title track finds Rhys singing “Dreams can come true/Nightmares also...We’re flying in love/Or falling in hate.” The narrator of Lonesome Words sees “Vultures in the sky/Ready to pounce down/On my corpse one day.” Cycle of Violence concludes, “Dirty bombs and clean ones/Look the same if you look closely.” Coming last in the Candylion track list is its most audacious entry. Starting with another intro by Ms. Caldato (“Candy Airlines welcomes you aboard flight F-U-N”) and taking up a full third of the album’s running time is the 15-minute Skylon! To a slow-burning, subtle groove, Rhys spins an outlandish, comical tale of a bomb disposal expert who winds up on an airplane stuck next to an actress he despises. He thwarts a hijacker, diffuses a bomb, ponders letting it explode for “The golden opportunity/To dispose of a TV personality,” but saves the plane; after escaping death together, he falls in love with the actress and they--of course--have a love child. A rare epic tune that stays amusing after repeated listens, it caps off a fully enjoyable detour from one of the Aughts’ most colorful songwriters.
Highlights: Skylon!, Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru, The Court of King Arthur, Candylion
Sublime bit: The breezy sensuality of Cycle of Violence’s bubbling-brook arrangement, especially the strings and Rhys’s overdubbed harmonies.
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