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Robyn Hitchcock, Spooked

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(The Gadabout Challenge: Let’s see if I can complete the following review without once using the word “eccentric” or referring to the M.I.A. Syd Barrett, shall we?)
Can’t help noting that Spooked (Yep Roc) is about an apt a title for a Robyn Hitchcock album as you could ask for. With his penchant for willfully eccen. . . strange lyrics about the natural (think “Bass,” “Insect Mother”) and supernatural (think “My Wife And My Dead Wife”), not to mention his more dadaist psychedelic conceits, the once and future Soft Boy has long trafficked in pop that, if not spooky, can often be lyrically disorienting. His newest release, a musical collaboration with folk country artists Gillian Welch & David Rawlings (with a couple guest visits by cult perennial and bassist Joey Stampinato), is in the subdued predominately acoustic mode of earlier releases like I Often Dream of Trains or the Eye demos. And though I personally prefer Hitchcock when he’s playing with a full contingent like the Soft Boys or the Egyptians, the disc still has its moments of Hitchcockian splendor.
Among these, I’d count his lilting opening ode to “Television” (not the Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe song, though it shares a similar theme); the sitar-inflected “Everybody Needs Love” (which sounds just as Summer of Lovey as you’d expected it to); the enjoyably dark “Creeped Out” (with its sparse electric guitarwork hovering in the distant background for most of the cut); and the lightly jazzy “Full Moon in My Soul” (neat bit of backwards guitar snuck into this ‘un). No Hitchcock release would be complete without lyrical refs to wildlife, of course – “We’re Gonna Live in the Trees” has him re-imagining himself as a bird, while the folky finale “Flanagan’s Song” evokes images of flocking ravens and tiny frogs – but, in general, the focus is more mournfully wistful than madcap.
“The party’s over; the drugs have taken themselves,” he sings in “Song.” Between this and his sweetly doleful cover of Dylan’s “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” (smart slivers of harmony from Gillian Welch on this cut), there are hints of a growing maturity on Spooked that may be at odds with the throwaway wackiness that’s long been a ready part of his arsenal (spoken track “Welcome to Earth” is noticeably flat, while “English Girl” holds its tossed-off rhymes to undue listener scrutiny). But with Welch & Rawlings providing tidy support on tracks like the dobro-driven “If You Know,” Spooked has enough doses of Syd Bar. . . weirdo lyricism to satisfy longtime admirers of the nasally British songwriter. A fine, if slightly tentative, Robyn Hitchcock release, in other words, that promises more in the years to come.
Shine on, you crazy eccentric, you. . .

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.
  • http://www.templestark.com/blog Temple A. Stark

    I liked the humor in the review.

    I put this up on Advance.net.

    Your review can be found at this link.

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Bill, super cool as always, have sort of drifted away from Robin as of late – unless I missed something, isn’t Syd still alive?

  • http://oakhaus.blogspot.com Bill Sherman

    You’re right, Eric. Syd is still with us, but I’m not the first ‘un to think otherwise. . .

  • http://armandpoetry.blogspot.com Aramand

    This RH album is really good. I disagree with the critics who claim he is a perpetual Syd Barrett clone. True the voice tone and style are definetly derivitive, but the lyrics are truely unique. RH often does a wonderful job of creating a mood with words. It is hit or miss on some albums. But when it hits OH MAN.