Look at this actual foetus.
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.
Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians - Child of the Universe (Perspex Island)
A very familiar cover—I’ve had a bootleg of this for well over a decade—but given a nice clean treatment on Robyn’s upcoming record The Man Upstairs. (Aug. 26)
Cover by special Hitchcock-buddy Grant-Lee Phillips. In memory of my father, train enthusiast who really did dream about them.
Robyn Hitchcock - I Used to Love You
Shame about this one having such a similar title to “I Used to Say I Loved You”—which is a great song from a great album, but in the world of google algorithms it well overshadows this beauty. It’s not often that we hear Robyn’s voice really naked and raw like this, and he doesn’t retreat much from the central emotion in the lyrics. On surreal lines like, "The police station is still on Parker’s Piece / It hasn’t drifted, nor have the police", which ordinarily would be a way for him of pulling back from something uncomfortable, it’s one of the more wrenching lines. It’s beautiful.
The most tragic thing about it, to me, is that I don’t even read this as being about a former lover. (You might all be way ahead of me on this, but I couldn’t find any interviews or the like about it.) I suspect it’s about Syd Barrett, with those lines about "I wore your hairstyle, I learned to speak like you" and "but now you’re crazy and I myself am straight / and every child must avoid its parent’s fate". Separating yourself from an idol you emulated in your youth is just as wrenching as leaving a decomposing relationship.
Metroscene - Autumn Is Your Last Chance (cover)
This is so close to the original that I don’t have much to say about it in terms of either praise or critique, but any day that I hear this song is a good day. One of the first Hitchcock songs I ever heard that just drove me nuts—I was working in a library at the time, doing my shift and replaying the song in my head, frustrated that I couldn’t be listening to it right at that very moment.