Releasing a seasonal tune about suicide is not the most obvious way to mark this time of year, but there are no holds barred on Gruff Rhys's Atheist Xmas EP. The Super Furry Animals frontman is known for an absent-minded air that hides a sharp sense of humour, but "Slashed Wrists This Christmas" is far from what you might expect from a figure whose current album, Hotel Shampoo, is inspired by his collection of complimentary toiletries.
Instead, on the liner notes to the release, Rhys describes the song, about someone who attempts suicide after a previous effort, as "unfortunately, inspired by true life events. It is not my intention to glorify nor to trivialise the subject matter." Indeed, telling details and a confessional tone give his lyrics an emotional weight missing from, say, The Smiths' "Girlfriend in a Coma".
On the EP, "Slashed Wrists This Christmas" is balanced by two lighter affairs. First,"Post Apocalypse Christmas" suggests a desperate need for festive cheer would survive in a nuclear winter. Then, "At the End of the Line" takes on the dislocation of being separated from loved ones – a term used loosely as the tune was written for a short film, Long Distance Information, made by former Jesus and Mary Chain bassist Doug Hart.
Such dour yuletide fare is thin on the ground. Malcolm Middleton's 2007 tilt at the Christmas No 1 slot, "We're All Gonna Die", was one of the last of the note. So Santa hats off to Rhys for tackling such difficult themes and reminding us of the plight of the lonely and depressed, without sounding as trite as "Do They Know It's Christmas?"
Gruff Rhys's 'Atheist Xmas EP' is out 19 December on OVNI/TurnstileReuse content