Robyn Hitchcock - Robyn Hitchcock
Robyn Hitchcock can’t stop releasing music. At age 64, and on his 21st studio album, Hitchcock has spent three decades defining his longing, at times foppish, strand of British psych-melancholia. While time is often unkind to independently minded artists like Hitchcock, who has collaborated over the years with the likes of Gillian Welch and Nick Lowe, the issue with this most recent self-titled release is one of inspiration, rather than over-saturation. Here, too, Hitchcock has surrounded himself with a crack-team of session musicians, including Americana veterans such as Emma Swift and Wilco’s Pat Sansone. That rich country backing keeps things interesting, even if it doesn’t always fit like a glove for Hitchcock’s pysch-rock leanings. Hitchcock announces himself on album opener “I Want To Tell You What I Want”, although for such a strong declarative sentiment his seemingly empathetic desire to “feel what it’s like to be someone else” doesn’t make much impact as the album progresses. Hitchcock deemed this album in a recent interview with NPR to be an “ecstatic work of negativity”, but the paint-by-numbers genre choices of these songs, and the mealy-mouthed psychedelic lyrics, offer only occasional moments of clarity.
Throughout, Hitchcock employs a variety of musical styles honed by the last three decades of musical experimentation, though rarely expanding or advancing them. A recent move to Nashville dapples country-rock tracks like “I Pray When I’m Drunk” and the twangy opening chords on “Detective Mindhorn”, although the bawdy, pseudo-sexual lyrics on the former are a distinct misfire. Better are Hitchcock’s dispatches from the moody psychedelia that has always underpinned his work. The buzzing, scuzzy guitars of “Virginia Woolf” merge trippy insights into British popular memory, with the same nasal tone that originally drew him favorable comparisons to Lennon or Syd Barrett. Ditto the charming garage rock of “Mad Shelley’s Letterbox”, which churns along memorably even if it never scratches the surface of coherent meaning. And that’s one of the most annoying paradoxes on Robyn Hitchcock. Songs, like the slow-burning “Sayonara Judge”, seem totally at odds with the word-generator psych of tracks like “Autumn Sunglasses” or “Time Coast”. The album may bear the creator’s name, but its fractured state leaves innumerable dead-ends for the audience and little unity among the songs themselves.
Occasionally Hitchcock hits the true musical sweet-spot. On backwards looking tracks, particularly “1970 in Aspic” and “Raymond and the Wires”, we catch glimpses of a gentle, reflective artist remembering times and relationships long past. He acknowledges that 1970 “sits in amber”, backing vocals swirling around him in longing for a London he loved a lifetime ago. Likewise, “Raymond…” captures the same mellow, ebullient fascination with transit that once made “Trams of New London” such a treat. Hitchcock has always had a way of writing lovingly about the special peculiarities of our travel, the “silent way” it moves. Here, juxtaposed against the realization in late life that he never knew his “lonesome dad”, it adds a depth and weight that distinguishes it from the album’s heaping helpings of ostentatious psych prattle and faux-country. After 21 albums, Hitchcock is still hovering around his strengths. It’s a shame that this album, the one bearing his name and intentions to tell us what he wants, doesn’t have more to say.