Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Robyn Hitchcock 21: Olé! Tarantula

It would seem that Robyn Hitchcock’s albums are the most consistent when he’s either working completely solo, or when he’s got a solid unit behind him for the duration. That’s the evidence one gleans from the first play of Olé! Tarantula, his most solid album since the heyday of the Egyptians. Here he’s helped out by the Venus 3, a trio of escapees from Young Fresh Fellows, Ministry and R.E.M. (longtime buddy Peter Buck). And considering that the other two guys have since been tapped to help out R.E.M. onstage and in the studio, that should suggest a certain mutual intuition.
Right from the top, “Adventure Rocket Ship” and “Underground Sun” sound like vintage Robyn; even “Museum Of Sex” works despite its saxophones and rambling lope. Speaking of which, “Belltown Ramble” sports a dotty piano over the acoustic and non-linear lyric for six minutes. The title track seems like an excuse to write a song to match said title, but it’s got all the ingredients for fun.
By now Robyn fans tend to give songs with titles like “(A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs” the benefit of the doubt, whatever the context. “Red Locust Frenzy” comes at the traditional spot when one of his albums starts to drag, nudged along by a riff not distantly related to “I’m Only You”. “‘Cause It’s Love (Saint Parallelogram)” was written with XTC’s Andy Partridge, and could have used some of his lyrical whimsy. “The Authority Box” is nice and trashy, in direct contrast with “N.Y. Doll”, something of a letter written from the point of view of that band’s Arthur Kane.
As we’d long begun to suspect that we were supporting this guy more out of habit than fascination with his development—not helped by pricey import-only items like Obliteration Pie and This Is The BBC—it was truly joyous to find something as, well, good as Olé! Tarantula. Clearly this was not a fluke, since he took the band on the road (pushed by some exposure from the Sundance Channel) and dug deep into his catalog. Some examples emerged on Sex, Food, Death… And Tarantulas, an EP released the following year; in the meantime, it was hoped that the Venus 3 would be able to help their boss out again, provided they could find the time.

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 Olé! Tarantula (2006)—3

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