Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Robyn Hitchcock 9: Queen Elvis

With Queen Elvis, Robyn fell into place with a consistent sound that was sure to please the new fans he picked up with Globe Of Frogs. It’s a bit slicker—it was, after all, the late ‘80s—but there are some great tunes here.
The dated-ness of the production is evident from the start. “Madonna Of The Wasps” is unfortunately introduced by a layered vocal section as opposed to the cod-Gregorian intro as played live and demonstrated in the video. Still, once the song proper kicks in it’s very catchy. “The Devil’s Coachman” would also work better live; it’s cluttered on the album, despite the string augmentation but still has some great lines. “Wax Doll” continues the chamber-pop sound; one intrepid observer pointed out that a wax doll would indeed look like it was crying had it melted in a fire. “Knife” is a (mostly) one-chord jam, redeemed very much by “Swirling”, but there are those ‘80s keyboards again.
In many ways the second side mirrors the first. “One Long Pair Of Eyes” was the other single off the album and it still has a soaring feel. “Veins Of The Queen” pushes us back to British chamber pop territory, but the unnecessary remix added to the end of the CD makes it worse. The same can be said of “Freeze” on both counts; it’s another one-chord song designed solely to enable Robyn to do one of his patented snakey guitar leads. “Autumn Sea” develops a good tension, but good luck trying to decipher the conversation between Messrs. Frobisher and Featherstonehaugh (pronounced “Fanshaw”) in the middle. And “Superman”—not the R.E.M. cover, but an original, in direct contrast to the continued appearance of Peter Buck on Robyn’s albums—is still great at demonstrating how the band were able to play different rhythms against and at each other.
Queen Elvis may not be great, but the album as a whole fits nicely on a Maxell 90-minute tape with Globe Of Frogs, which is awfully convenient. It doesn’t satisfy as much, but luckily, he was on a roll and the next album would make it all better.

Robyn Hitchcock ‘n The Egyptians Queen Elvis (1989)—3
Current CD availability: none

8 comments:

  1. This is probably my least favorite Robyn Hitchcock album. (Even "Groovy Decay," with all of its tackiness, is more interesting...). Too many of the songs here just seem kind of... half-written. Even so, "Madonna of the Wasps", "Wax Doll," and "One Long Pair of Eyes" are sublime...

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  2. A lot of Hitchcock fans do not like this album very much and consider it a low point. I am with you. It is a very good album, although not one of his best. The production dates it a bit, but there are many solid songs. There were some great acoustic b-sides that were recorded at McCabe's Guitar Shop ("One Long Pair Of Eyes" with a great spoken intro and a cover of "The Ghost In You").

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  3. Of the two, I prefer Globe Of Frogs, but that could be purely sentimental.

    The intro to "Eyes" is a hoot, and the cover of "Ghost In You" is a favorite. It would be nice if there could be a better mop-up of those extra tracks from the A&M years; the hits album only scratched the surface.

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  4. I enjoy your reviews a lot. Do you plan on looking at Robyn Hitchcock's stuff with The Soft Boys? "Underwater Moonlight" is a masterpiece.

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  5. Thank you, whoever you are! I should get to the Soft Boys one of these days, but truth be told I'm not as familiar with them as I should be. All things in time, however.

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  6. (lurking anonymously no more)

    If you're a Robyn Hitchcock fan, you're sure to like his stuff with the Soft Boys. Their early stuff is a little rough, but Underwater Moonlight will blow your mind. Their follow-up album (20 years later!) Nextdoorland ain't bad either...

    (unfortunately, I think that all of the Soft Boys stuff is currently out-of-print, though rumor has it that Yep Roc will be reissuing it someday soon...)

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  7. What I've heard from Moonlight (buried on a cassette somewhere) I did like a lot. Funnily enough I just got outbid for a copy of the 2000 version on eBay...

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  8. There is a 2 disk soft boys set just called 1976-1981 (which pretty well covers it). I believe it is still in print.

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