Monday, September 13, 2010

Robyn Hitchcock 12: Respect

Now that college alternative was mainstream, it wasn’t easy for some of the old guard to keep up. Depeche Mode and the Cure did okay for a while, but XTC and Siouxsie & The Banshees were just two bands who fought against commercial apathy around this time, despite having been darlings of 120 Minutes not long before. Robyn was going to most likely stay a cult hero, and that was probably fine with him. Meanwhile, he had some new songs, and ended up recording Respect in his kitchen using predominantly acoustic instruments and percussive samples.
The wackiness begins immediately on “The Yip Song”. With that onomatopoetic word repeated about 300 times, it has a lot going against it, until you consider the context: it’s about his dying father. “The Arms Of Love” starts, as a lot of these songs do, with weird keyboards and kitchen percussion, and the song bursts forth melodically. However, “The Moon Inside”, which follows, is a worse version of the same song. But “Railway Shoes” is real nice, with the drums clip-clopping along through the “take the train” part. A typical romp through the macabre, “When I Was Dead” might be better and less forced without the Arabian keyboards.
The second half is much stronger right off the bat with “The Wreck Of The Arthur Lee”. A cross between a sea chanty and a tribute to the leader of Love, it’s just gorgeous, complete with a trumpet and strings section to make the musical reference more direct. If only it were longer. The ingredients mix well on “Driving Aloud (Radio Storm)”, a lot of nonsense people either love or hate, slathered in harmonies. “Serpent At The Gates Of Wisdom” sounds like something we’ve heard before; with just those few chords, the simple harmonica, acoustic guitar and piano with organ under the vocal, surely someone else could have written it already? The momentum diminishes for “Then You’re Dust”, which is just too quiet, and “Wafflehead” isn’t likely to win any doubters over. As a production it’s certainly interesting, with found sound, mouth noises and loops (right out of Pink Floyd’s early cookbook) but as a grand seducer, Robyn is no Barry White.
Respect is an odd one. It was his last new album for A&M, and the last appearance of the Egyptians. Mathematically it shouldn’t be that good and it’s kinda short, but the highs more than compensate for the lows. For that, it’s an improvement on Perspex Island.

Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians Respect (1993)—
Current CD availability: none

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