Robyn Hitchcock now has a lifetime pass. Once someone has made albums as good as ‘Underwater Moonlight’, ‘Fegmania’ and ‘I Often Dream of Trains’, you can overlook when they don’t knock out records that knock you off your feet.
That may give the impression that Robyn Hitchcock‘s latest album, the self-titled ‘Robyn Hitchcock’, is an uninspired affair, but that would be misleading. Like many great musicians who have managed to sustain decade long careers – people like Tom Waits, Jonathan Richman or Michael Hurley – the uniqueness of their character, as communicated through their music, almost always produces something good and interesting, and Robyn fits perfectly into this vein of songwriter; it is precisely his uniqueness that means he can never make a record that is not worth hearing.
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Throughout the record there are moments worth celebrating: ‘Detective Longhorn’ is classic Hitchcock, complete with an infectious melody, driving rhythms and phenomenally curious lyrics – “Detective Longhorn/with your caterpillar face” is a prime Hitchcockism – and ‘Raymond and the Wires’ is a gorgeous, pulsating, bittersweet ballad, the equal to many of Hitchcock‘s greatest moments. Unfortunately, however, there are quite a few songs that fall somewhat flat. Whereas tracks like ‘Detective Longhorn’ have all the hallmarks of the classic Hitchcock style, yet feel enlivened by an uncertain energy, tracks like the album opener ‘I Want to Tell You About What I Want’ and ‘Mad Shelly’s Letterbox’ also have all the distinctive characteristics of a Hitchcock song, but give the impression they are just bread and butter songwriting tasks, composed from a place of knowing what Hitchcock‘s distinctive style is rather than that unique and inspired place within his own creativity.
In all honesty, ‘Robyn Hitchcock’ it’s a perfectly fine album. Hitchcock knows his personality and craft well enough at this point that he can still charm the listener with his eccentricity, while pop songwriting is as natural to him as inhaling oxygen. He proves he still has got his songwriting chops intact – not that this was being questioned – and can make songs good enough for end of year playlist considerations. It’s just unavoidable that after a career with so many high points, there is a natural ebb and flow to the urgency and originality of Robyn Hitchcock‘s most recent records, and this album is no exception to that.