Of the three, Propellor Time is the least interesting, despite who’s on it—Nick Lowe and John Paul Jones being just two of the contributors. It doesn’t help that Robyn is still trying to write songs with as few chords as possible, letting his quirky two-liners carry interest from one stanza to the next. But he still manages, usually, to make them sound pleasing, and he does right off with “Star Of Venus”. With Morris Windsor on harmonies, one drools at how it could have sounded as an Egyptians track. “The Afterlight” previously appeared on a live EP; here its studio version mostly seesaws between two chords in an inadvertent stylistic homage to Dylan’s “Tiny Montgomery”, lifting for the bridge. “Luckiness” trots along under a prominent mandolin, ending with applause, but the first real eyebrow-raiser is “Ordinary Millionaire”, featuring contributions from Johnny Marr, who is also credited with composing the music. What the CD still calls side one (and indeed, it was available in a limited release on cassette) ends with “John In The Air”, a somewhat psychedelic sea chant that truly grows.
The title track provides further inspiration for our hero, with an excellent arrangement of music composed by Peter Buck that reminds us of Eno’s “Julie With...” Contrarily, “Primitive” goes back to a three-chord vamp, but the set culminates in “Sickie Boy”, whjch (like the title track) ranks up with the best of his career, catchy and joyful, ending with recited credits and, again, applause. A lengthy pause precedes the harmonica-heavy “Born On The Wind”, which is a pale shadow of “Serpent At The Gates Of Wisdom”, just as “Evolove” seems like another tacked-on bonus.
In what’s become a trend, Propellor Time is worth playing a few times, and it certainly isn’t bad, but we still get the feeling these are leftovers. Sometimes those are worth sweeping up, but not all of these are.
Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 Propellor Time (2010)—2½