Robyn Hitchcock Sings “I Want To Tell You About What I Want”

Listen to this track by neo-psychedelic musical vector and now Nashville-based singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock. It’s “I Want To Tell You About What I Want”, the crunchy, lysergically-oriented lead single off of his latest record, the imaginatively titled Robyn Hitchcock.

The record mines the songwriter’s continuing love for mid-sixties psych and absurdist imagery. He’s backed by a full-band that’s very plugged in, emphasizing the pop-jangle and fizz that characterizes a lot of Hitchcock’s mid-to-late-eighties and early nineties material. This is in part down to the sympathetic ear of producer Brendan Benson, a jangly pop musician in his own right. Helping to fill out the profile on other tracks is singer-songwriter Grant Lee Phillips, and pedal steel player Russ Pahl, who add some unexpectedly essential textures to bring everything into focus, and with extra 1966-67 psychedelic contours.

With all of that in place, the record sounds and feels like Hitchcock is perfectly at home, and yet still manages to avoid complacency. Maybe this is because there are many places on the record that sound very personal in a way that Hitchcock’s music has never really been before, taking those absurdities in which he usually deals into a very palpable social arena.  Read more

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Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians Play “Madonna Of The Wasps”

Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians Queen ElvisListen to this track by formerly monikered Soft Boys and ’80s neo-psychedeliaists Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians. It’s “Madonna Of The Wasps”, the lead track on their 1989 record Queen Elvis. In addition to former Soft Boys members Hitchcock, plus bassist Andy Metcalfe, and drummer Morris Windsor, this song features the distinctive lines of another key player worth mentioning; R.E.M’s Peter Buck.

Buck, and his band, were formed by following the example of what Hitchcock had laid down with the Soft Boys, particularly their Underwater Moonlight album. And here, Hitchcock reinforces that influence on one of his most enduring pop songs. A recurring theme in his work seems to revolve around insects, from cans of bees as forming the title of the first Soft Boys record, to references to Antwomen later on, and even with a documentary about him called Sex, Food, Death … And Insects, with all of those other things referenced being recurring themes in his work as well.

Hitchcock’s particular parallel is to draw a comparison between our six-legged friends and a form of idealized womanhood. And no song does this better than this one. And it shows something else too beyond Hitchcock’s affinity for writing songs about our winged, stingie-tailed pals.

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The Soft Boys Play “I Wanna Destroy You”

The Soft Boys Underwater MoonlightListen to this track by neo-psychedelic janglers and left-of-center pop song crafters The Soft Boys. It’s “I Wanna Destroy You” as taken from their 1980 album Underwater Moonlight, their second.

The record would prove to be a slow burn when it came to success in the mainstream. But, in the meantime this song and the rest of the album would be a touchstone to inspire a number of bands coming up behind them in the new decade, including REM, Yo La Tengo, the Replacements, and the Pixies.

The Soft Boys was creatively driven by songwriter, singer and guitarist Robyn Hitchcock, a musician who would distinguish himself as a songwriter of unique lyrical perspectives and in no half-measures during the rest of the 1980s and up until the present as a solo artist.

And like Hitchcock would demonstrate in his solo career, the Soft Boys would pull from some of those same influences that must have seemed out of date at the time this song came out; The Byrds, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Revolver-era Beatles, and vintage Bob Dylan. By the end of the 1970s, new wave was the thing, and old wave was out.

But, the retro sound of the record was matched with the hostile sentiments laid down by punk rock, aligning the Soft Boys in both camps, yet in neither, too. Read more

Robyn Hitchcock Plays “Glass Hotel” From The Film ‘Storefront Hitchcock’

Robyn HitchcockListen to this track by surrealist pop musician, singer-songwriter and pretty handy guitarist too, Robyn Hitchcock. It’s his 1998 rendition of his song “Glass Hotel”, one of the many he performed for the Jonathan Demme film Storefront Hitchcock. Where another of Demme’s high-profile concert films, Stop Making Sense, portrays his subject matter on a large, exaggerated scale (big suit and all!), Storefront Hitchcock is all about understatement, and space.

And this is one of the most understated in the set, a song of delicacy and dreamlike lyrical landscapes, all the while being observed by the off-camera audience in front of him, and those who walk by the window of the titular storefront in which the concert is occurring.

The song originally appears on 1990’s Eye, where it’s something of a deep-cut. Here, it’s a moment of quiet, taking on  an almost liturgical sheen, with a bit of Salvador Dali thrown in. After all, this is Robyn Hitchcock, an artist not generally known for his straight-forward material. And the filming of this show had this as its basis; to showcase the songwriter as a singular performer.

But in some ways, this film is also about the viewer.

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Robyn Hitchcock Sings “Daisy Bomb”

starforbramListen to this track by seneschal of eccentric pop, and left-of center singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock. It’s “Daisy Bomb”, as taken from his 2000 album A Star For Bram, which was something of a twin to 1999’s Jewels For Sophia, given that the two records came out of the same sessions.

For all of his eccentricities where writing pop lyrics go, Hitchcock can write love songs with the best of them. And this is certainly one, although of course even here he escapes the cliches of typical love songs just by repositioning what love actually means beyond a simple pop song sentiment. Here, love isn’t just a gooey feeling. In this song, it has elements of danger, all wrapped in a wistful folk-rock package.

His approach here on this song is about connecting with his own unique route to love, or at least in expressing it. Even with the non-traditional approach to lyric writing, Hitchcock is still writing for an audience, providing a fresh vocabularly to the whole business of being in love. That’s what artists do.

But, how does he do that, exactly?

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Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians Play “My Wife and My Dead Wife”

robyn_hitchcock__the_egyptians-fegmania_album_coverListen to this track, a Bowiesque tale of the supernatural, or maybe just another love song from a different angle.  It’s Robyn Hitchcock and his then-new band the Egyptians with “My Wife and My Dead Wife” as taken from the 1985 album Fegmania!

Robyn Hitchcock was the former frontman for the Soft Boys, and had up until this record written songs that evoked an 80s take on 60s Psychedelia, a sort of British equivalent to the Paisley Underground scene in the States.  But, he was as interested in David Bowie as much has he was in 60s psychedelia, mixing in glam with absurdism. By 1984 after three solo albums, he gathered together with former Soft Boys Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor to form Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, a band that would last, in name at least, into the early 90s.

Hitchcock is known of course for his ability to write from unexpected vantage points, often judged as willfully weird, even if his abilities with writing pop hooks are as accessible as you’d like.  The oddness is certainly front and centre here.  But, the story here of a man with an unwelcome house guest – his former, in every sense, wife. But, is this a literal tale of a man and his new bride plagued by the spirit of his deceased wife? Or is this just an elaborate metaphor for a man who has remarried too soon, who has not let himself get over one love before pursuing another?

I like to think of this as an Anglicized take on the magical realism literary tradition, which allows for both things to be true.  In this tradition, very popular in Central American fiction,  a fantastical element like a ghost of a dead person is both literal and metaphorical, haunting the living as a literal ghost, but also at the same time as a memory, too.  As such, what we’re getting here is a novel’s worth of drama wrapped inside a single song, something of a comic-tragedy.  The narrator is a man in conflict, who can’t decide which wife he loves more – the one he’s with, or the one who haunts his memory.

It’s lighthearted, but somehow it’s sad.  As wrapped up as it is in absurdity and irony, it paints an acccurate portrait of a lot of relationships, with the ghosts of lovers past floating in and out of them, uninivited.  It’s these forces that often keep us from moving forward with the new person who is right in front of us, held as we are by the spirit of an old love that we somehow idealize instead.

For more about Robyn Hitchcock, check out robynhitchcock.com.

Enjoy!

Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians play ‘So You Think You’re in Love’

robyn_hitchcockListen to this song by wingnut genius singer-songwriter and psych-pop revivalist Robyn Hitchcock with his late 80s-early 90s band The Egyptians: “So You Think You’re in Love” from his 1991 album Perspex Island.

This song and the record off of which it comes was Hitchcock’s shot at ‘breaking America’, something of a cliche perhaps among English pop musicians.  At the end of the 80s, Hitchcock found a friend in REM, who were also interested in the jangly-60s Byrdsian approach to pop songwriting. But, where REM had established an audience in the mainstream by then, Hitchcock was still trolling the waters of cult and college radio hipness.  Yet, the two bands toured together at the height of REM’s success, exposing the Egyptians to a crowd who might never have otherwise heard them.

In some ways, Hitchcock never really stood a chance at being the biggest band in the world.  Although this song is totally accessible and in a classic Beatles-Byrds pop vein, Hitchcock’s lyrical interests are still way off of the beaten track and into the trees.  This is what I love about him, of course.  Well, that and he still knows enough to write good tunes as well.  But, a mainstream audience would never be ready for a guy who likes to write about food and insects, in addition to being able to write cool love songs like this one.

For more information about Robyn Hitchcock, check out his site.

Enjoy!

Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3: Adventure Rocketship, and New Releases Too

Here’s a clip featuring Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3 performing the lead track off of their 2006 album Olé Tarantula.

Olé Tarantula was one of my favourite releases that year, a real ray of sunshine with a lot of lyrical loopiness which I expect and celebrate in Hitchcock’s work, plus all of the Byrds/’67 Beatles/’66-’76 Dylan references that I’ve come to love.

Robyn Hitchcock and Peter Buck of the Venus 3
Robyn Hitchcock and Peter Buck of the Venus 3

Recently, news of a second installment in the repackaging program from Yep Roc has come down the pipe. The first of course was I Wanna Go Backwards, which was a re-release of three of his albums plus extras in one 5 CD box. Those albums are Black Snake Diamond Role, I Often Dream of Trains, and Eye, all of which received individual re-packaging releases too if you want to cherry-pick. Read more about the details of the I Wanna Go Backwards box from Yep Roc on their site.

The second box is the upcoming Luminous Groove (including 1985’s Fegmania, ‘86’s Element of Light, and the long-awaited re-issue of the live Got to Get This Hen Out. The release for that box and the individual album re-issues at press time is August 19, 2008. Read more about it here.

Boy, it’s beginning to sound like I’m on Yep Roc’s payroll – Nick Lowe, Billy Bragg, Hitchcock, Sloan, Ron Sexsmith, Yep Roc artists all – have been heavily featured here on the ‘Bin. But, it’s pure enthusiasm, Good People. They happen to be favourite artists of mine, so I’m just spreading the word. I actually like a lot of artists on their current roster. But, I’m not making a dime writing about them here, folks.

Still, Yep Roc – to quote the old song – can you spare a dime (or a couple of free records at least)?

I kid.

Mostly.

Enjoy the clip!!

Records I Have Known: Jewels For Sophia by Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock Jewels For SophiaSome records you love because they are immediate and instantly gratifying. They are the prettiest girl at the dance, the one who all of the boys want to dance with. Then, there are the other ones. They have a unique character which stops them from being conventional, yet are appealing just because of their unconventionality. They are the pretty girls at the dance that don’t seem obviously pretty – a crooked tooth here, a set of out-of-date glasses or a drastic haircut there. Yet it is these aspects which make them so attractive, and in many ways so much more interesting. Robyn Hitchcock’s Jewels For Sophia is one of those.

I can’t actually remember how I first discovered Robyn Hitchcock. It could have come through my involvement with a collective of music geekery in Black Cat Bone. There are a few Hitch-heads over there. I had heard a few things here and there. There were a few acclaimed albums which were recommended to me; I Often Dream of Trains being one, and Underwater Moonlight, which is arguably Hitchcock’s best album with The Soft Boys, being another. But, it was Jewels For Sophia that made me a fan. I saw it on sale at a Virgin Megastore (of all places) in Piccadilly Circus, and decided that I’d check it out. What kind of record I was in for, I wasn’t sure. But looking back, I had discovered one of my favourite albums.

It took some time to catch on, but once it did, it completely captured me. The first thing I noticed about it was a total lack of cliché. Hitchcock is known for his absurdist left-of-centre lyrics, of course. But the music itself seemed to stand outside of what was happening at the time too. I heard Bob Dylan in there, particularly on the tracks “You Got A Sweet Mouth On You Baby”, which sounds like a lost cut from Blood on the Tracks, and the sublime “I Feel Beautiful” (with the immortal lines “I water the tomatoes and I think of you/No one’s ever watered me the way you do”). I heard the jangly glory of what Hitchcock had helped to create with the Soft Boys, handed down to bands who admired them like REM and Grant Lee Buffalo, especially on the tracks “Elisabeth Jade” and “Sally Was a Legend”, on which Peter Buck of REM plays. And of course there are the obvious Syd Barrett meets John Lennon comparisons often made to describe Hitchcock in general to be considered. There is a certain validity in this – the melodicism with English eccentricity torch is still burning through out most of Hitchcock’s output, and is particularly strong here.

Robyn HitchcockThere aren’t many songwriters out there writing about cheese, antwomen, Buzz Aldren, and Seatac Airport all on one album. This is a record where rock clichés have no purchase. And Hitchcock’s voice – very English, deep, almost spoken – makes the odd imagery work. It’s like hearing an eccentric-but-cool uncle speaking. With that said, it’s easy to get sidetracked by all of the absurdity and fun, and miss the poignancy underneath. If “NASA Clapping” comes off as a punk-meets-Dylan-meets-the Surrealists barrage, then “I Don’t Remember Guildford” and “Dark Princess” stand as more sombre pieces, tracing the memories of a forgotten chapter in a life, and the idealised vision of love which takes on the characteristics of an act of worship respectively.

There is so much included here; top flight playing, quirkness, grit, beauty, and a seemingly willful approach to songwriting that attempts to cut any connection to rock conventions. It is charming, and a little bit unpredictable too. Because it diverges from the norm, it gives the impression that it could go in any direction. For some, this is off-putting. But in this, Jewels For Sophia does what the best albums in rock/pop music does; it provides the escape route from where songwriting often settles, with a set list of subject matter, language, and sound. With this, and with Hitchcock’s other work, anything goes. Anything can become a song. The pretty girl at the dance can be anyone.

Further listening:

Robyn Hitchcock

Watch an interview with Robyn Hitchcock