Coming to prominence in the late 1970s with UK post-punk band The Soft Boys, Robyn Hitchcock reinvented himself when the band broke up in 1980. Since that time, he has release 19 studio albums including this year’s Love From London. As Hitchcock celebrates his 60th birthday, the question has to be does the man still have it?
For those familiar with Hitchcock’s career, they know what “it” is. “It” is comprised of insightfully cheeky lyrics, playful juxtapositions, and perhaps most importantly his signature jangle pop style. From the opening track, “Harry’s Song” it seems like the formula had suddenly switched for Hitchcock. The track is a piano dirge that seems deeply serious. Although he does manage to squeak in a reference to pterodactyls, it is in the more existential way possible (“pterodactyls used to hang here”).
While “Harry’s Song” is by far the slowest track on the album, it does set the mood for one of Hitchcock’s more serious works. Gone are the days of clearing his notebook into a record, instead every track seems very deliberate. “Be Still” picks up the tempo but the messaging stays the same as Hitchcock sings the chorus of “be still, let the darkness fall upon you.”
But for the lack of quirkiness in the lyrics, there is plenty in the instrumentation. Three of the closing five songs are psychedelia that only someone who lived through it could make. “Strawberry Dress” has a snaky guitar line befitting of the Doors but replacing the keyboards in the mix are lush strings. “Death and Love” utilizes synth pads to obtain a similar lush sound and are accompanied by heavily reverbed vocals. “My Rain” seems like Hitchcock’s tribute to Leonard Cohen as he puts on his best gravelly baritone over layered guitar arpeggios.
Unfortunately, the three psychedelic songs are the least successful on an overall mediocre album. At 60, it makes sense to have some existential questions but they seem odd in a Robyn Hitchcock album. The album’s serious tone with an experimental music feel just does not mesh well. Maybe for his 61st birthday, we will get a more Robyn Hitchcock-esque album.
MP3: Robyn Hitchcock “Harry’s Song”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl