Is there a law where every Britpop singer of note must perform or make at least one song with strings and wind instruments? (This is not a complaint.) To wit: The string-swept funk of "Walk the Walk" from Supergrass' Gaz Coombes, Saint Etienne's sparkling dance-pop jam "Tonight," the cello-laden Slow Attack from Suede frontman Brett Anderson, several cuts from Jarvis Cocker's solo debut Jarvis — give me all of your string-swooned Britpop.
It's not like Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals, Neon Neon) hasn't worked with a string section before, but his forthcoming solo record, Babelsberg, is lousy with lush and playful arrangements by the Swansea-born composer Stephen McNeff, performed by the 72-piece BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
"I wrote 'Limited Edition Heart' whilst walking along a polluted yet beautiful river," Rhys shares in a press release. With buoyant acoustic guitar, a rumbling rhythm section and starry-eyed strings that cascade from the night sky, "Limited Edition Heart" recalls Scott Walker's vibrantly sharp "Hero of the War." Like that gem from 1969, Rhys channels a world-weary anxiety, but transposes it into surreal imagery: "Badlands bison burgers at night / Vegan option complete with gamma rays" and "Military takeovers at night / We'll go into hiding and keep the lights shining."
The accompanying lyric video only adds to that tension, with a looping animation of Donald Trump sharing his cell phone screen with Jesus Christ, as a snake person counts money nearby. Rhys' only hope is humankind's heart.
Babelsberg comes out June 8 via Rough Trade Records.