Friday, August 13, 2010

Robyn Hitchcock 10: Eye

Perhaps because it didn’t involve the Egyptians, Eye was released not on A&M but on Twin-Tone, the Minneapolis label best known for introducing the world to the likes of the Replacements, the Jayhawks and Soul Asylum. As we’d come to expect from an album with predominantly dark green artwork, it’s largely solo and acoustic—just like I Often Dream Of Trains—and practically flawless.
“Cynthia Mask” starts out prettily enough with just a guitar, then the voice, then the piano, setting the tone for what is to follow over the next hour or so. The first couple of verses could be described as political, but the chorus sends it all somewhere else. “Certainly Clickot” isn’t the best follow-up, though the instrumental interludes are quite nice. “Queen Elvis”, the title track that never was, appears twice (on the CD, anyway); the first is more straightforward, giving plenty of room for the vocal. “Flesh Cartoons” is a wonder in three chords, right up to the “looney-oh” ending. “Chinese Water Python” was his first instrumental in a long time and very pleasant at that. “Executioner” shows his amazing skill at holding those long high notes. It’s an angry one, and he wasn’t even at Live Aid. “Linctus House” is a comforting change, following a windy narrative through chisels and flesh hotels. (The CD added three tracks here: “Sweet Ghost Of Light” is a spooky little number sung in a higher register, while “College Of Ice” is a baroque duet for piano and electric guitar, and goes nicely into “Transparent Lover”.)
Things start to pick up with “Beautiful Girl”, much better than it deserves to be, simple as it is start to finish. The harmonies are killer. “Raining Twilight Coast” is another Lennonesque rant with the great line “just one thing, baby, you forgot my heart”; the rest of the lines probably keep it from becoming a standard. “Clean Steve” is a mineral man, obviously, another wacky, winding, namedropping song with the piano playing bass. “Agony Of Pleasure” is about a picnic or sex or both, and somehow he manages to get his vocal around those chords. “Glass Hotel” provides another respite from the shouting in the previous three. “Satellite” is more Lennon and Barrett with just the right amount of piano and the back of a guitar for percussion. “Aquarium” starts out mysteriously enough, then goes somewhere entirely different for the middle, and ends up somewhere else. The spidery guitar lines make the song. The spookier electric take of “Queen Elvis” closes the CD, different enough from the first version, and makes for a nice bookend.
The above may seem a pretty brief rundown, but here, the music speaks for itself. Each of the tracks deserves a paragraph on its own, and we just haven’t enough space at the moment. Eye sits together nicely and is a great way to kill an hour—or more, if you leave it in the player. It is perhaps Robyn’s most underrated album, and one of the most underrated albums of 1990. (In addition to those extra tracks not on the vinyl or cassette, Rhino’s reissue also added some demo versions of the songs, none of which were included on the Yep Roc reissue, which instead included some more acoustic songs of dubious origin. At least they fit sonically with the album proper.)

Robyn Hitchcock Eye (1990)—5
1990 CD: same as 1990, plus 4 extra tracks
1995 Rhino reissue: same as 1990 CD, plus 3 extra tracks
2007 Yep Roc: same as 1990, plus 7 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. This is a great album! And "Cynthia Mask" always struck me as a song with an entire universe folded into it...