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 immediately overt, but they prove to be inspired collaborators.
Spooked is another acoustic album with a green cover, mostly, many of the songs coming 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 threatens 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 wanted to root for Spooked, and display it as proof that he’s just as inventive as ever. Yet songs like “Creeped Out” come across as something he’s making up on the spot, with the barest of chords, the immediate effect is that of forced whimsy, where once he sounded more natural. 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 tribute 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 enough moments throughout, 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. 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. We didn’t come around ourselves for over a decade, but when heard within the context of a decade’s worth of a lot of one-shots, the album does emerge as recommendable.

Robyn Hitchcock Spooked (2004)—3

2 comments:

  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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    1. Only took me four years, but... you're absolutely right. It has since been upgraded.

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