Shufflemania! by Robyn HitchcockRelease date: October 21, 2022
Label: Tiny Ghost Records
Robyn Hitchcock is an artist I have seen live more than any other artist. Every time he swings into the New England area, I make it a point to buy tickets. He has long been a fascinating, and often underrated songwriter. Underlying his witty and often funny compositions is a serious songwriter. His thinly veiled commentaries on politics and climate change are often lost on those who think he’s only about insects and crabs. But I know better, having seen his masterful performances with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, his girlfriend Emma Swift, and other folks. Mostly, though, I have seen Robyn playing solo piano and guitar with a smattering of harmonica.
This new album is his first full length in over 5 years and was recorded in various locations around the globe during the pandemic. It is just under 40 minutes. Hitchcock purchased a 5-track recording device and emailed his guitar and vocal compositions to some of his many musician friends, including Johnny Marr, Sean Ono Lennon, Brendan Benson, Kimberley Rew and Morris Windsor (Soft Boys), Kelley Stoltz, Anne Lise Frøkedal, Davey Lane (You Am I), Eric Slick (Dr. Dog), and Pat Sansone (Wilco, The Autumn Defense), all of whom proved more than happy to contribute.
This new album explores different sounds and includes the slightly manic ‘Shuffleman’, which quickly shifts into high gear, rattling along at a punky pace. ‘The Inner Life of Scorpio’ is reflective and is not only lovely, it features one of Robyn’s finest vocal turns. ‘The Feathery Serpent God’ is faintly psychedelic with far distant drones in the mix, and inspired by the ancient palace of Quetzalcoatl in Tulum, Mexico, which Hitchcock visited in 2019. I just love the bridge on this song, featuring Emma’s lovely backing vocals (I think it is her). ‘Midnight Tram to Nowhere’ is a bluesy shuffle where Robyn addresses his beloved cat Tubby before slipping into a cool tune with harmonica. ‘Socrates in Thin Air’ reminds me quite a lot of his older material, while ‘Noirer than Noir’ is spy whimsy, offering an air of mystery that is quite inviting with clicking percussion.
‘The Man Who Loves the Rain’ is elegant and rather gorgeous, my favourite song on this set (so far). It is possibly a reflection of life under the pandemic, as Robyn says: “The world changes under your feet, Life is eternal, life is so brief, and life is so sweet“. Please, write more like this, it is one of your best pieces of work in years. ‘The Sir Tommy Shovel’ ushers in a bit of Soft Boys guitar kick, with some cool harmonies and way out guitar. ‘The Raging Muse’ has some rather nice piano skittering over fuzzy guitar lines. And finally, ‘One Day (It’s Being Scheduled)’ is the pretty coda to one of Hitchcock’s finest in a large body of excellent work. Highly recommended!