Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Robyn Hitchcock 30: The Man Upstairs

Here’s something different from Robyn Hitchcock: an album that’s half covers, familiar and not so, and half originals. The big eyebrow-raiser is that it was produced by Joe Boyd, who these days tends to avoid anything that’s not considered “world music”. Nor does it mine the catalog of artists most associated with Boyd; the choice of songs is all the artist’s.
Most versions of the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost In You” have been reverent, and while this isn’t Robyn’s first recording of it, the muffled bass, strings piano and high harmonies give it a quiet elegance. Similarly, he’s long admired Roxy Music’s Avalon album, and “To Turn You On” sticks to their arrangement, even the key change in the middle. The Doors’ “Crystal Ship” isn’t a big stretch for him either, with a pianist filling in some of the holes; enjoyment of any of these will be enhanced by familiarity. Occasional touring buddy Grant Lee Phillips gets a nod with “Don’t Look Down”, while “Ferries” is a cover of a song by a Norwegian band called I Was A King, with the song’s own writer providing harmonies (as she does throughout the album).
His own songs are a mixed bag. “San Francisco Patrol” is one of the loveliest and therefore unlikely songs to be inspired by a Dirty Harry movie. “Comme Toujours” seesaws between French and English and is a nicer version of a song he’s recorded already. “Trouble In Your Blood” is also quite slow and pretty, but not dull. “Recalling The Truth” isn’t as pretty, but brings everything to an unresolved end. Unfortunately, “Somebody To Break Your Heart” completely breaks from the mood, and is the album’s sore thumb.
Faithful readers have marveled at how we can stay interested in an artist whose most provocative work was decades ago. Part of it comes from an unspoken agreement with a man we’ve never met; as long as he keeps making albums that aren’t horrible, we’ll listen. And maybe, just maybe, one day something will come out of him that absolutely stuns.

Robyn Hitchcock The Man Upstairs (2014)—3

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