HITCHCOCK CLASSIC

Pacing the house like a mangy old bear. It was a hot windy day yesterday. Today it’s cold and  miserable. Welcome to Melbourne Spring, where blossom comes and goes on the whim of Aeolus. Go for a walk, instructs Ms Connection. I should. I’ve become indolent; flabby of mind and body. Getting frustrated with… everything. Every  Fucking  Thing. From the macro teetering of the USA, the dominant world force of my lifetime, to the daily arrival of a new ache, another compromise. Oh, and technology. Fucking technology. 

Back to this afternoon and Ms Connection’s suggestion to take my perambulations outdoors. Off I go, mask in place and new headphones clamping the mask elastic. (An aside: Has anyone else accumulated hundreds of dollars worth of headphones this year, desperately seeking something that both sounds good and doesn’t give you a headache after half an hour?)

Scrolling through the limited music on the iPhone (laziness, not capacity) I alight upon Robyn Hitchcock. It’s his self-titled album from 2017 and it’s perfect for walking. Play. 

For those unfamiliar with Mr Hitchcock, he first made a mark with his band The Soft Boys in the late 70s, before embarking upon a prolific solo career. We are not talking Robert Pollard levels of output here, still there is a very respectable body of work that, according to those in the know, is reliably good. Other than the two original Soft Boys LPs, I don’t have much of Robyn’s music; it was a bit of a leap to spring for this album yet I’m glad I did.

The LP opens with “I want to tell you about what I want”, which is not at all like the Spice Girls. It’s a rocking, guitar-jangly rant of the most wry and entertaining kind.

I want world peace

Gentle socialismo, no machismo

And the only god should be the god of L.O.V.E

I want a non-invasive kind of telepathy

That lets you feel what it’s like to be somebody else

Feel what it’s like to be somebody else

“Virginia Woolf” opens with a chiming guitar line and a fabulous opening stanza. So we’ll skip to the striking second verse.

Sylvia Plath

She laid down on the floor

Sylvia Plath

Opened one final door

Pretty stark off the page, yet the chorus puts the dark humour into perspective. Hitchcock is writing about the pain of seeing the world as it is and battling the inevitable depression this evokes. It’s a tad angry, but never mocking. A great song for dark times.

In 2015, Robyn Hitchcock and his partner moved from London to Nashville. That is perhaps the influence on the cod-country song that comes next, “I pray when I’m drunk”. It’s very funny and just on the right side of twee. RH is a fine lyricist. (He’s also a dab hand at storytelling, and is known to include prose pieces with his records).

As befits a musician who turned fourteen in 1967, Hitchcock has a fine sensibility around what does and doesn’t work when mining the psychedelic vein. “Mad Shelley’s letterbox” nails it, with jangly guitars that would make Roger McGuinn weep, a great melody, and Robyn’s slightly clipped accent over the top. Meanwhile, superb layered backing vocals underpin Hitchcock’s singing. It’s not over the top; in fact it’s beautifully done.

A song-by-song analysis can bog down an album review. Especially when it’s an LP that floats effortlessly. But here are a few additional moments that came up and made me smile.

  • The massed “Ahhh”s and jangling guitars at the end of the afore-mentioned “Mad Shelley’s Letterbox”.
  • A sly “Come up and see me” (Steve Harley) moment in “Sayonara Judge”.
  • The glam stomp on “Detective Mindhorn” with its rich layers of “yeah” in the chorus.
  • The strange tale of excess that is “1970 in aspic”, with a clear nod to its recording in Nashville.
  • The utterly glorious psychedelia of “Autumn Sunglasses” complete with Eastern touches, backwards guitars, woozy strings, killer harmonies, and descending chorus melody. Perfect.

From the final song, “Time Coast”…

I’m singing to the ruins

(Ah ah ah ah ah)

I’m singing from the past

I’m singing like a fossil

Time goes by so fast

Robyn Hitchcock “Robyn Hitchcock” [Yep Roc Records, 2017]

Highly recommended, whatever your altitude.

19 comments

  1. Oooh, I do like the reference to Sylvia’s oven door. May well be one for me Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Could be, Joe. His lyrics are excellent (particularly that song) and the music shows an enduring love for Magical Mystery Tour era Fabs. I really loved the sound of the one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s on the list Bruce.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh, and the other verse…
      Virginia Woolf was good for a quote
      Virginia Woolf knew that stones do not float.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s superb, right up there with ‘Wind’s Quark, Strangeness & Charm.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Evan Jenkins · · Reply

    Was lucky enough to see him at the Merri Creek Tavern in Westgarth pre Covid lockdown. Great raconteur and a fantastic show.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s super, EJ. I had a ticket booked for him doing “Piper At The Gates of Dawn”, but the show was cancelled. Beaut that you saw him up close and personal (while such things were still possible).

      Like

  3. “I Often Dream Of Trains” wasn’t a hit, but it was a classic. In between I lost sight of Robyn Hitchcook a little, which is also due to the fact that the parameters of his work have hardly changed. But thanks I gonna listen to this album later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, he does have an ‘oeuvre’, doesn’t he? And sometimes we do take a break from artists for a while. But this is very strong, so I hope you enjoy it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve listened to a couple of his albums so many times, I can sing from memory (well, sort of singing) “My wife and my dead wife,” “Brenda’s Iron Sledge” and “Globe of Frogs.” Sometimes you just need a jolt of surrealism in your day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Having spent so much time with this one, Robert, I’m hungry for more!

      Like

  5. I Confess I hadn’t tried Mr. Hitchcock before, harboring Suspicion that he was The Wrong Man for me. Turns out I was too Young and Innocent to have recognized what I was missing. Thankfully my mistake has been corrected thanks to the above dispatch from my favorite Foreign Correspondent.

    I followed your example and listened to this during a (frustrated) evening stroll last night. I really liked it, and I was glad to have read your post first so I could hone in on some of the wonderful aspects you described. And yes, I listened through expensive wireless earbuds purchased after prior failed experiments.

    Like

  6. You gotta get out for more of those walks Bruce, especially when the music accompanies you. The best.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers, CB. Thinking of taking up indoor yoga. Wonder what effect that will have?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Let me know how that idea goes.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This sounds interesting and I would never have come across it or the artist or the motivation to listen without your excellent review.
    Now which headphones or buds will I use? I know, throw a dice having numbered them one to six…
    PS I’ve found the xiaomi very comfortable but only after reversing the buds for left and right.
    BTW Are my ears upside down?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Could be, DD. And thanks for picking up on the ‘phones question. Tangentially, last night I was listening to Bowie’s ‘Low’ on the best headphones in the house (Sennheisser RFs) and was blown away. I predict a glowing Low-ing article…

      Like

  8. Oh Hitchcock what a treasure and so fun live, we caught him in a converted church pre-lockdown he opened with Astronomy Domine on piano and then things got strange, a raconteur and not only does he write a fine song but he can pick a great cover song to throw in every now and then. All of his records are worth a listen but you do need a break after awhile, I particularly enjoy Eye and Moss Elixir.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. May have mentioned earlier, his tour/concert in Aus was cancelled at the last minute. Wouldn’t hesitate to book if we ever get to hear live music again. And thanks for the suggestions, Neil. I plan on exploring more. As you say, a treasure.

      Like

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