Friday, April 2, 2010

Robyn Hitchcock 3: I Often Dream Of Trains

Robyn took his time off to take everything back to basics, and we’re glad he did. The resulting I Often Dream Of Trains is predominantly acoustic, with absolutely zero modern production tricks.
A simple “Nocturne” on piano, which opens and closes the album proper as a “Prelude” and “Demise”, is quite haunting, and in time one could make an enjoyable compilation of his instrumentals. Then “Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl” comes crashing in, and is more relaxed surrealism than “Do Policemen Sing?” while very logical at the same time. There aren’t really any bad ones here—“Cathedral” is nice, the multi-tracked a cappella “Uncorrected Personality Traits” is still hilarious, and “Sounds Great When You’re Dead” only pushes it slightly. “Flavour Of Night” is very Lennonesque—the album as a whole brings to mind the spooky Plastic Ono Band vibe—with a gorgeous piano line, unobtrusive saxophone and that echoey vocal. “Ye Sleeping Nights Of Jesus” is a happy “Far Away Eyes”-type singalong, kinda country.
“This Could Be The Day” is one of the earliest songs we can think of that mentions Nubians. “Trams Of Old London” is a pleasant reverie on various London locations, many of which are still accessible by tube. “Furry Green Atom Bowl” is the flip of “Uncorrected Personality Traits”, both in performance and subject matter. “Heart Full Of Leaves” is another gorgeous instrumental, going nicely into “Autumn Is Your Last Chance”—wait for the ethereal “ah” at the end. The title song starts out with all its electricity, fitting for a song about trains. Then the demise of “Nocturne” fades in and ends.
The simplicity of I Often Dream Of Trains was a stark and welcome contrast to his first two albums, and to his credit, he stuck with it for a while. As it turned out, he even stuck pretty close to his demos for the final outcome, having learned not to screw with them too much. (It also set a tone for his best albums having green covers, but more on that later.)
The 1986 CD sported five extra tracks inserted between the sides, which is where they belong. We would not be at all surprised if Neil from The Young Ones was the inspiration for “Mellow Together”. “Winter Love” doesn’t really go anywhere but “Bones In The Ground” and “My Favorite Buildings” are successful examples of unlikely rhymes fitting well. “I Used To Say I Love You” is a very sneaky meditation on the end of romance.
The Rhino CD wisely replicated the 1986 sequence, but due to form, added five demos as bonus tracks at the end that merely illustrated how fully formed the album was before its proper recording. When Yep Roc got a hold of it, none of the Rhino bonus demos were included, in favor of two other demos and three different tracks that don’t really fit the feel of the original album except for being acoustic. What’s worse, the current CD also doesn’t include “Mellow Together”, in either its proper or demo form; the other four songs added to the 1986 CD were placed after “Nocturne (Demise)” in the program. Stick with either the original or the Rhino CD.

Robyn Hitchcock I Often Dream Of Trains (1984)—4
1986 CD: same as 1984, plus 5 extra tracks
1995 Rhino reissue: same as 1986 CD, plus 5 extra tracks
2007 Yep Roc: same as 1984, plus 10 extra tracks

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