Gruff Rhys, American Interior – review

LP packshot

Gary Page reviews, American Interior, the upcoming solo longplayer from the lead-singer/principal songwriter of one of Britain’s finest bands, Super Furry Animals:

I’m not going to lie to you, Gruff Rhys has been a hero of mine for nearly twenty years so the opportunity to review his latest record was too great to resist. That’s not to say that I fawn over every note he has produced and I always embark on listening to any new Gruff product with equal measures of expectation and trepidation.

While Super Furry Animals have been on indefinite hiatus since 2010, the songwriter has channeled his fuzzy edged energies into collaborating with Gorrilaz on their last album, creating a stage show with the National Theatre of Wales on his Neon Neon project and making documentaries about interesting and mainly unknown characters in Welsh folklore.

Which brings us neatly to American Interior. The album was written while filming the follow-up to his charming film Separado!. In 2010 the psychedelic road movie charted the life of Rhys’s distant uncle René Griffiths, a charismatic 1960s Welsh pop singer who mysteriously set off for Patagonia, never to return. American Interior carries on in the same vein, with Rhys’s attentions turned to John Evans, another distant relative, who in 1792 went walking into the American wilderness in search of Welsh speaking, Native American tribe.

I have yet to see the film version of American Interior so went into listening to Gruff’s fourth solo record pretty much in the dark regarding the John Evans legend. The first impression you get from hearing the title track is that he has lost none of his magic at conjuring up a song dripping in melody and sweet harmonies while the lyric “Your visions carry me to brave new worlds” sets the tone for the thread of Messrs Evans and Rhys’s story that unfolds cryptically over the next forty minutes.

A song that stands out on the first few listens is The Last Conquistador. Maybe it’s because it’s the closest to a Super Furry tune of the thirteen tracks, recalling the more mellower moments of Rings Around the World and its follow up Phantom Power.

Musically the album dips in and out of Rhys’s past musical incarnations, Lost Tribes sounds like the 80s pop/soul that featured on his two albums under the Neon Neon moniker, while Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be) has the lush string arrangements found all over his previous solo records.

The album stalls slightly in the second half with the track Allweddellau Allweddol. Featuring what sounds like a chorus of children chanting a mantra, far from making this listener entranced, the tune is slightly annoying over repeated listens. As always with Gruff Rhys however, there’s always a beautiful melody around the corner. The Swamp follows and without wanting to sound like a cliche, it’s classic Gruff, a lush ballad that melts the heart.

The record concludes with Year of the Dog/Tiger’s Tale that evokes the landscape of America with pedal steel guitar and honky tonk upright piano accompanying Gruff’s almost resigned melody, making it a perfect soundtrack for the end of this American journey.

I look forward to seeing American Interior when it appears later this year on our screens either on DVD or at the local cinema. Along with an accompanying American Interior book and, for you 21st Century kids, a mobile phone app, Gruff Rhys has been extremely busy bringing the story of John Evans’s journey to life. The most pleasing thing however is that he hasn’t neglected his songwriting and has produced a record that can stand alone from its multimedia companions and sit proudly alongside his impressive back-catalogue.

American Interior is released on Turnstile on May 5th

gary page at bruce


Review by Gary Page.