Monday, July 1, 2013

Robyn Hitchcock 20: Spooked

Having basically ceased to matter in the business outside of his miniscule fan base, Robyn found a new home on Yep Roc, a label that specialized in indie rock perpetuated by such older codgers as Nick Lowe, The Reverend Horton Heat and the guy from the Blasters. For his first missive on the label, Robyn hooked up with David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, darlings of the alt.country movement. Their influence isn’t particularly overt, even if we’d like it to be.
Spooked is another acoustic album, mostly, but many of the songs come across as demos. “Television” is sadly not about the band but the appliance, yet rates a devoted vocal. “If You Know Time” is based around what sounds like a dulcimer, evoking something like a more tuneful Incredible String Band. But around where “Everybody Needs Love” comes in, the album starts to sound like endless variations on “The Cheese Alarm”.
People who’ve followed Robyn this long want desperately to like him, and therefore ache for an album to thrill as much as its older siblings did in earlier decades. We want to root for Spooked, and display it as proof that he’s just as inventive as ever. But when songs like “Creeped Out” come across as something he’s making up on the spot, with the barest of chords, it’s tough to remember why we cared at all. Meanwhile, the lengthy cover of Dylan’s “Trying To Get To Heaven”, here given its full title with the tag “Before They Close The Door”, seems like a Major Statement, coming only a couple of years after his double-Dylan set, and in full acknowledgement of his mortality. (Of course, the unique modification referring to “the dinosaur’s waiting room” shows he just has to be him.)
There are a few moments, like the first couple of tracks and a few near the end (like “Full Moon In My Soul” and “Flanagan’s Song”) that actually possess melodies capable of adhering to your brain. But it’s hard to imagine how Spooked might have developed from first idea through composition, refinement and recording. It seems a very arbitrary album, especially considering that the two-song bonus CD that accompanied initial orders is as good as the album it accompanied.

Robyn Hitchcock Spooked (2004)—

1 comment:

  1. I think you are overlooking a lot here. David Rawlings' guitar playing is frequently beautiful, and most of the songs are much more melodically sound than you are letting on. It's true that the recording process for this album was casual and the songs are sparse, but I hear that as a strength not a weakness. Ideas emerge organically from the collaboration process. To me it sounds like Hitchcock is liberated from the commercial expectations he faced when on A&M and Warners. I'd take this album over most of the ones he recorded with the Egyptians, which frequently sound too busy and/or overproduced.

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