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.
She laid down on the floor
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.