Released in early 2008, Neon Neon’s debut album, Stainless Style, put to music the life of John DeLorean, millionaire playboy and creator of the iconic DeLorean DMC-12 car. By the end of that year, the world was in financial meltdown; now Europe’s on the brink of accepting magic beans for currency. It seems appropriate, then, that Praxis Makes Perfect gives the pop-biography treatment to Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.
A keen businessman born into one of Italy’s richest families, Feltrinelli was also a socialist who used his publishing house, Feltrinelli Editore, to give voice to a mix of authors, poets and radical thinkers who were, more often than not, sticking it to The Man. He smuggled Doctor Zhivago out of Russia, where it had been banned; he hung out with Castro and tried to devise a global strategy for the Cuban Revolution’s reform; he died, just two years after launching his own leftist activist group, seemingly at the hands of his own explosives at a high-voltage electrical pylon.
That’s a lot to get into 30 minutes, yet Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip have crafted an album that captures the contradictory essences of Feltrinelli: activist and businessmen. Fittingly, it’s a more subtle, diverse beast than the electro-pop hip-hop of Stainless Steel, with Gruff’s melodic songwriting coming more to the fore, though not at the expense of Bip’s clean, precise electro production. Vocal chatter rides the radio waves of the title track, like ghostly bulletins from Feltrinelli’s life; elsewhere, The Leopard floats on an almost Kate Bush-like dreamscape, namechecking another of Feltrinelli’s literary coups while building to announce the Italian monarchy’s 1948 defeat by referendum. Each of these 10 songs is a piece in the Feltrinelli puzzle, resulting in an album whose ambition suitably matches its subject’s big ideas.