Robyn Hitchcock by Robyn HitchcockRelease date: April 21, 2017
Label: Yep Roc Records
My most vivid memory of Robyn Hitchcock was his appearance at Cambridge folk festival in 1992 prior to the appearance of the twee pop/soft rock/folk, 1970’s hit makers’ Gallagher and Lyle. Robyn seemed to relish playing a severely contrasting set full of noisy alternative indie rock. Over the course of his four decades’ career as a songwriter, his sometimes edgy, antagonistic acid tongue has seen the former Soft Boy move towards the air of a warmer attentive uncle in recent years, whilst also releasing albums consisting of a further broadening variation of styles including softer, hushed folk more suitable to the said festival’s climate.
For his self-titled 21st album release, recorded at Benson’s Studio in his now adopted home of Nashville with sessions musicians plucked from the Music City, ‘Annie McCue (guitar), John Estes (Bassist), Jon Radford (drums), Russ Pahl (pedal steel) as well as guest contributions from Gillian Welsh, Emma Swift, Grant Lee Phillips, and Wilco’s Pat Sansone. You may rightly assume it will be his Country/Americana album. However, the album cover of Robyn in psychedelic patterned shirt and equally colourful background, while caringly holding a cat, gives a truer account on what lies within.
Yes, there are indeed a few country numbers which reflect Nashville’s absorbing influence. “I pray when I’m drunk’ is a Johnny Cash fuelled brisk tempo fed through Detroit’s Blanche, and the now disbanded David Berman led Silver Jews, combined with Hitchcock’s trademark wordsmith bite ‘‘I feel the hammer of judgement as it smashes on my soul.’’ In contrast, ‘Sayanara Judge’ and ‘1970 in Aspic’ ply pedal steel along with soothing harmonies for light as air gentle brushstrokes.
But it is with the Beatles Rubber Soul/Revolver era pop and psych sensibilities which makes this set of songs his most vigorous album for some time. The last two songs, ‘Autumn Sunglasses’ with its finger picking hooks and its floaty psych coating and the ‘She Said’ styled loud guitar and vocal harmonies of ‘Time Coast’ are warmly infectious. While opening number ‘I want to tell you about what I want’, ‘Virginia Woolf’, and ‘Mad Shelley’s letterbox’ are fine blasts of loud guitar Indie pop and are instant welcoming reminders of his debut solo album ‘Black Snake Diamond.’
Produced by Brendon Benson, singer/songwriter, co-writer and member of The Raconteurs, brings a similar touch to his recorded output as the production is bright, breezy, with a consistent spine of melodic pop hooks all openly shimmering in the sun.
But, there is also a lyrical genteel afterglow than some of his earlier work. His skill at storytelling is undiminished, whether it is with the thoughtful, nostalgic memory of travelling on a tram with his father in 1964, ‘Raymond and the Wires.’ Or contemplative considerations on the suicides of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath on ‘Virginia Woolf.’
Robyn Hitchcock’s self-titled album is essentially a guitar driven psychedelic/pop record with a little dash of country, but no matter the genre the album possesses a coherent set of strong songs full of diverse stories, thoughts, and reflections. And they all sit comfortably alongside each other to make this his most satisfying album in many a year.