Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Robyn Hitchcock 13: You & Oblivion

The Egyptians quietly disbanded following the tour supporting Respect. Something of a farewell snuck out as The Kershaw Sessions, a collection of performances for BBC Radio going back to the mid-‘80s. Some of these tunes are pleasant variations on the album versions, and many of the later ones incorporate the “acoustic techno” format of the ‘90s. Two unreleased covers—Bob Dylan’s “Open The Door, Homer” and an a cappella “Banana Boat Song”—plus the extended live intro on “Madonna Of The Wasps” make it nice to have.
Then, in 1995, Rhino embarked upon a daring program reissuing all of Robyn’s pre-A&M albums (plus Eye), fleshed out with bonus tracks, remixes and liner notes. In addition to cleaning up what had become an unwieldy catalog spread across various labels and editions, the most exciting and enduring development out of the reissue series was You & Oblivion, which presents 22 generally unknown songs, recorded mostly solo and acoustic, some as demos and some not, in the early to mid-‘80s. It doesn’t have a green cover, but it might as well, seeing as it fits alongside I Often Dream Of Trains and Eye for pleasant listening.
“You’ve Got” starts nice, with great lyrics, as does “Don’t You”. “Birdshead”, which had been heard previously as a live B-side, has Peter Buck’s guitar, while “She Reached For A Light” basically an experiment to write a song with one chord. “Victorian Squid” borders on hilarious, yet “Captain Dry” would be better presented as “Clean Steve”. “Mr. Rock ‘N’ Roll” has a foreboding melody surpassed by the lovely “August Hair”. “Take Your Knife Out Of My Back” is another in a long line of great titles, only this time the song lives up to it. “Surgery” was available occasionally as a magazine flexi-disc, but it still sounds unfinished.
While not credited as such “Polly On The Shore” is an old sea chantey, which finds a close relative in “Fiend Before The Shrine” two tracks later. Meanwhile, “Aether” starts a sequence of several weaker songs, though there’s a good line in “Keeping Still” about chickens wanting human soup, and the gorgeous “September Cones” and “Ghost Ship” (continuing the sea theme, and previously heard as a snippet on Globe Of Frogs) are two absolute gems.
Despite running out of steam at the end, there’s a plethora of riches here, all of which sound contemporary to each other, though that subliminal child’s voice, mixed low betwixt the tracks, can be unsettling at times.
When Yep Roc picked up the catalog twelve years later, You & Oblivion was not included, and all but nine of the tracks were farmed out as bonus tracks to various albums, making it something of a deleted collector’s item. Which was pretty much the opposite of what Rhino had tried to do with their reissue campaign.

Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians The Kershaw Sessions (1994)—
Robyn Hitchcock You & Oblivion (1995)—4
Current CD availability: none

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