Friday, October 07, 2011

Robyn Hitchcock - Chronolology

Robyn he one of the most underrated musicians around? Judging by this, his first proper ‘best of’ collection in his 40 year career, you'd have a pretty convincing argument there. His devoted fans (and they do seem to be a particularly devoted bunch) would probably argue that everything he does is his best and that such a compilation is therefore redundant. For the more casual listener though here, at last, is a ‘best of’ and, given that it’s been carefully selected by the man himself it’s probably as definitive as you’re likely to get. Then again, as Robyn puts it, “Chronolology is one of many possible orbits through my world, see where it takes you..."

I’m a relative newcomer to Robyn’s work (given his limited commercial success I’m guessing most people are), only really taking the time to check him out in the last year or so. For some reason I had him pinned down as a ‘difficult artist’ but, surprisingly, a lot of the tracks on offer here are (whisper it) quite poppy, albeit a slightly twisted form of pop occupying a world obsessed with sex, death and creepy crawlies.

Embracing his time as a Soft Boy, Egyptian and one of the Venus 3 the whole thing kicks off with the distinctly punk/new wave I Wanna Destroy You (from all the way back in 1980). Grrrrrrr. It’s a cracking track, dripping with vitriol and raw energy but still pretty tuneful at the same time and, if you glean only one thing from this review, that’s the big point a better world Robyn Hitchcock would be a bone fide pop star. Only The Stones Remain could almost be a track by The Fall, with Hitchcock adding a distinctly Mark E Smith-ish “ah” to some of his vocals. God this is great stuff...and we’re only at track three. I Often Dream Of Trains channels the spirit of lost genius Syd Barrett before Robyn ramps up the weird with a surprisingly upbeat little ditty entitled My Wife and My Dead Wife. Take a bit of Bowie, a subtle reggae beat and some Psychedelic Furs, mix it all up in a cocktail shaker and...well...that’s as close as I can get to it. What do you reckon?

Bonkers but brilliant n'est ce pas? Time and again, track after track you find yourself thinking why the hell isn’t this stuff better known? Even the more low key tracks, I Feel Beautiful for instance with its rather lovely glockenspiel groove, has enough going on to hook you in. Bringing things almost up to date the album ends with Goodnight Oslo, a track from 2009’s album of the same name by the Venus 3 (with REM’s Peter Buck lending his distinctive guitar to the whole shebang). Genius. So, is Robyn Hitchcock one of the most underrated musicians around? Download this gem of an album and judge for yourself.

Chronolology is out on October 25th on t’interweb.

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