Neon Neon

Praxis Makes Perfect

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Neon Neon's musical portrait of John DeLorean, Stainless Style, was so unique in its aims and successful in its execution that it seemed like a one-of-a-kind achievement -- that is, until Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip's Bryan Hollon reunited a few years later to set the life of the aristocratic, communist Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli to song. They triumph again with Praxis Makes Perfect, but aside from the biographical concept and the largely electronic arrangements, they don't repeat themselves much. Feltrinelli might be a more obscure figure than DeLorean, but he's no less fascinating, and these songs have a more overtly theatrical flair befitting his life's operatic sweep. He published Dr. Zhivago in 1957 (after having the manuscript smuggled out of the Soviet Union); hobnobbed with Fidel Castro; founded a militant organization as well as a publishing house and chain of bookstores that survive more than 40 years after his passing, and died under mysterious circumstances in 1972. Asia Argento's narration of these milestones over Morse code beeps tie the album together and add to the breathless, musical-like feeling (indeed, Neon Neon even performed some "interactive concerts" of Praxis Makes Perfect at the National Theatre Wales shortly after the album's release). Musically, Hollon and Rhys take a lush, sometimes seedy approach, nodding to Italo and Euro-pop influences as they use their electronics as a versatile backdrop instead of '80s time machines as they did on Stainless Style: bubbly synths, intentionally schmaltzy saxophones, and clever musical allusions like the Latin lilt of "Hoops with Fidel"s verses show just how versatile Neon Neon's sound really is. Likewise, the songwriting remains razor-sharp, particularly on the songs that directly address some of Feltrinelli's seeming contradictions. "Hammer & Sickle"'s refrain of "the winner, the loser and the middle man" touches on the kind of outlook he must have had to be radically left-wing and yet also so engaged in the retail world, a concept that "Shopping (I Like To)"'s irresistible electro-pop expands on with its winking lyrics and vocal cameo from bona fide Italian pop star Sabrina Salerno. Crucially, as on Stainless Style, you don't have to be intimately familiar with Praxis Makes Perfect's subject to appreciate the album: this is a wonderfully entertaining collection of pop songs that just happen to be well-versed in history and political and economic theories. Once again, Rhys and Hollon bring their very special brand of wit and creativity to the concept album, and it only whets the appetite to see which historical figure will get the Neon Neon treatment next.

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