November 15, 2004


Robyn Hitchcock.jpg

Presence of unlikely guests makes perfect sense

When one of music's most notorious eccentric characters releases an album called Spooked (Yep Roc Records), even more inherent weirdness than usual should be expected.

But what's really off the wall about Robyn Hitchcock's latest offering is that with the help of two unlikely collaborators, the bard of the bizarre's cockeyed musings sound downright genuine, if not altogether more sensible.

Spooked is a stripped-down, acoustic-based record, but it's much more than just Hitchcock and his guitar (unlike on 1990's ultra bare-bones Eye); he is ably backed by the versatile musicianship and co-production of noted folk tandem Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. While the album has enough of the quirky moments and subject matter Hitchcock's audience has come to expect, the understated elegance of the playing -- the singer, Welch and Rawlings switch between guitars, sitar, dobro, Wurlitzer and percussion, among others instruments -- somehow seems to add believability to his oddball charm.

Sure enough, Hitchcock's first lyric on the album is typically whimsical: "Television, say you love me." But instead of devolving into a throwaway, nonsensical personification, the song ends up being a quaint, heartfelt ballad, thanks to Hitchcock and Welch teaming upon the refrain.

The track "We're Gonna Live in the Trees" also sets some classic Hitchcock musings ("I'll bring you a fat juicy worm/I'll bring you millipedes") to a compelling soundtrack, as the verses are driven along by a pulsating kick drum and rickety dobro. And "Everybody Needs Love," so peppy it surely must be tongue-in-cheek, features perhaps the record's most ridiculous couplet: "Some people are lost/They wake up covered in oil and permafrost."

Hitchcock's vocals are not all delivered with knowing wink, however. Things take an irony-free, contemplative turn on the disc-closing "Flanagan's Song," on which Hitchcock has turned into a full-fledged folk poet: "I could look out there forever/Forever has no holes/Through the windows of eternity/You can glimpse the passing souls."

If that eloquent imagery sounds positively Dylan-esque, consider that Hitchcock also takes a stab at dear old Bob's "Tryin' to Get to Heaven." And when Hitchcock sings that he's in the "dinosaur's waiting room, trying to get to heaven before the close the door," it may be Bob Dylan's line, but it sure sounds like a metaphor worthy of his own songbook.

Spooky, indeed.

-- By George Henn

Posted by medleyville at November 15, 2004 04:37 PM