This early review of The Man Upstairs took it to task a bit for not being thematically like I Often Dream of Trains, since Robyn compared the two albums. I had reason to see the review long before I heard anything from the album myself, and my first thought was that usually Robyn compares things to Trains solely based on sound. I’ve read interviews before where he talked about the album’s “stripped down” aesthetic, not really saying anything about the lyrical concerns of Trains. So I think that review is founded on a misreading.
It’s more obvious to compare The Man Upstairs with Spooked in sound—it’s a lusher album than Trains with a plush, warm production, and those female background vocals immediately make me think of Spooked. Wojtas prefers the anxiety of Trains to the “protracted sigh of acceptance” he hears on The Man Upstairs, but I don’t agree that it means Hitchcock is low on inspiration. Melancholy resignation to loss has been a consistent vibe in his music for a long time, and it’s the thread in some of his best stuff. ”San Francisco Patrol” is a standout—it reminds me of “No, I Don’t Remember Guildford” through a filter of…I don’t know, a grade 8 slow-dance song with a disco ball. Or “Autumn Is Your Last Chance” with the lyrics filled out a little more. And speaking of that song! What is that one but “a protracted sigh of acceptance”? Trains is a great album but it’s not so fundamentally different from the rest of his work.
There are a lot of covers on this album, but it’s actually hard to discern them from the Hitchcock originals if you don’t already know. ”The Ghost in You” sure sounds like Robyn, even though it’s not. There’s a consistent flow to the album, one of those cohesive ones that you can stick on in the background and let it go for an hour.
It’s a sad, soft, dreamy, pretty album. I’d say it’s way better than Love From London, which I didn’t enjoy that much even though critics did. It’s weird to accuse Hitchcock of lacking inspiration as he ages, since he’s been incredibly prolific throughout his career. He’s also unusual for a “rock/pop/whatever” musician because he’s settled into himself a lot as he aged. Yes, the young Hitchcock had lots of interesting, nervy energy, but after he turned about 40 he started to put out subtle, interesting stuff that a younger man never could. He’s put out what, nine or ten albums in the last 15 years? I get it if this album isn’t your thing, and you prefer Hitchcock in other moods, but he just produces so much that it’s impossible to say that one album is much indication of a creative slump or slowdown.
But it is my thing, and I’m glad to have it.