Coming up to almost 45 years in the music business, Robyn Hitchcock is as seasoned a veteran as you can get. Massing a cult following from the synthesis of his first band – The Soft Boys, through his ‘Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians’ phase, and finally as a solo artist, Hitchcock is well known around the globe; frequently touring internationally.
Hitchcock has enjoyed success in all of his musical ventures, hovering around the same genre of music throughout his career. Sharing a similar level of success with the likes of Malcolm Middleton’s Arab Strap, Hitchcock can be said to possess a loyal following, a trademark of the alternative music scene. Releasing just over 20 studio albums, as well as many more live and compilation albums, Robyn Hitchcock is most fondly remembered for his early career, as a member of The Soft Boy and Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians.
There has been a distinct tail-off in the quality of some of Hitchcock’s solo albums, with albums such as ‘Goodnight Oslo’ (2009), and ‘Propeller Time’ (2010) possessing as many fillers as potential singles. The consequence of this is that Hitchcock’s albums from around the release of ‘Moss Elixir’ (1996) up to (but not including) ‘The Man Upstairs’ (2014) have more or less been forgotten following shortly after release. Arguably, ‘The Man Upstairs’ (2014) bucked this trend. A mix of covers and originals (including the fantastic ‘The Crystal Ship’), this album is of notable quality, possessing the ability to capture the audience from the first listen, and keep them hooked through to the 100th. A trait shared by only a small minority of releases, this is a tell-tale sign of a great album. Hitchcock looked like he was on the way back to reaching the quality of The Soft Boys and The Egyptians.
However, the release of Hitchcock’s self-titled latest album suggests otherwise. In trademark solo Hitchcock style, the album is a solid listen, possessing a few great tracks, but falls down as a result of the frequency of fillers. Standout songs like ‘I Want to Tell You About What I Want’ are followed by the more disappointing such as ‘Virginia Woolf’ and ‘I Pray When I’m Drunk’. This serves to diminish the feeling of quality around the album which, whilst possessing a few poorer tracks, still isn’t too bad. This is a trait which has plagued Hitchcock’s work for years.
The self-titled album was worked on with a number of well known individuals, with Hitchcock getting help from Wilco’s Pat Sansone, and Brendan Benson of The Raconteurs, amongst others. Despite the range of musical talents involved, ‘Robyn Hitchcock’ follows the same musical style as all of Hitchcock’s work. A mix of alternative rock and post-punk, the album boasts a string of styles, with songs like the classic alt-rock ‘Mad Shelley’s Letterbox’ preceding the slow ballad of ‘Sayonara Judge’. The result of this is that at some points, tracks blend seamlessly, and others, seem disjointed and almost ill-considered.
However, the strong criticism of Hitchcock only derives from an understanding of the potential of Hitchcock’s best work. Once you listen to the likes of The Soft Boys, and then experience the modern classic (I said it) ‘The Man Upstairs’ anything less is a bit of a let down. Hitchcock’s new album, though not overly exciting by his standards, is brilliant if considered in comparison to the work of artists previously reviewed on this site. With such a lengthy and successful career comes the large burden of expectation.
Picking the best tracks on the album, there is certainly a few. The likes of ‘I Want to Tell You About What I Want’, ‘Sayonara Judge’ and ‘1970 In Aspic’ are arguably some of his best work on the album. However, ‘Mad Shelley’s Letterbox’ is probably the album’s standout track. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this track is also most reminiscent of Hitchcock’s earlier work as part of The Soft Boys.
Hitchcock’s album, though given a seemingly negative review, is still of decent quality. Being familiar with Hitchcock’s work across the years, his latest release is certainly not his best, but is definitely worth being given a chance. For a new listener, I would recommend giving this album a try, but don’t let it taint your impression of Robyn Hitchcock. Following this album, delve into his work with The Egyptians and earlier as part of The Soft Boys.
Overall, this album is solid, though suffers from typical Robyn Hitchcock fillers. Hopefully, his next album will possess the quality of his 2014 release, rather than his 2017 release. ‘Robyn Hitchcock’: three stars.
Artist: Robyn Hitchcock
Label: Yep Roc Records
Release date: April 21, 2017
Play time: 36 mins
Standout track: Mad Shelley’s Letterbox