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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 180 - 05/17/11

Robyn Hitchcock
Tromsø, Kaptein
Hype City Recordings

It's strange we've hardly followed the life & times of Mr. Hitchcock since we opened Luna Kafé 14-15 years ago. He's an old hero of ours here at the Kafé's headquarters. The only album we've caught hold of where he is involved is by his original band The Soft Boys and their seminal Underwater Moonlight celebrating its 30th anniversary last year. Of Robyn's 30-something albums as a solo artist and band leader (of his Egyptians and Venus 3) there are none. We even missed out on his previous album with the title being about the headquarters' home town, Goodnight Oslo. Shame on us! This new one is exclusively released in Norway and with another Norwegian town in the title. So it's about time to confess and do justice on the good Robyn.

Mr. Hitchcock was one of the artists that stepped into the limelight in the wake of the original punk explosion by the end of the 1970s. Along with colleague Peter Perrett of The Only Ones and Andy Partridge of XTC he certainly knew his popular music history book. Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, The Byrds, The Beatles and Syd Barrett with and without Pink Floyd were closer sources of inspiration than Mr. Rotten, Strummer et al. At a club gig in Oslo the other day Robyn, vintage 1953, claimed the reason why he was born in England was to grow up with The Beatles. After that it was only Lady Di (and by now it's only Lady Di's daughter in law's sister, i.e. a good reason to go to Norway...).

Whereas Peter Perrett's voice sounded like a crossing between Syd Barrett and Lou Reed, Robyn's is the child of Syd and John Lennon. Very English... And so are his pop songs! Clever gems in the best of pure British pop tradiotion. I'm not always impressed by the live performances of Robyn's songs, though. With a standard rock line-up they sometimes tend to drown to some extent in a grey porridge of electric guitars. And it doesn't help if Peter Buck of R.E.M. fame is a member of his band. On the contrary. Robyn's songs shines a lot brighter with mellower arrangements, not least Robyn alone on stage with his guitar and harmonica. (If only his harmonica holder works properly...) And those funny stories and remarks in between that make it even more pleasurable to enjoy and digest his songs. Tromsø, Kaptein is a pleasure in this respect. Even though it is an album recorded with a band it is based around Robyn's acoustic guitar and voice. In addition Jenny Adejayan's cello graces most songs of the album. It's only a couple of full moons since we hailed cello as a great instrument also in a pop and rock constellation. Here is another excellent proof! All in all I no doubt prefer the somewhat acoustic arrangements of Tromsø, Kaptein to the more basic rock expressions of his and the Venus 3's Goodnight Oslo, where Jenny's cello only guested occasionally.

And of course the album is filled with songs up to the usual Hitchcock par, if not better. He takes a Lennon (ca. Imagine) in "Living Blue Afternoon", a couple of Hitchcock-twisted blues-ballads (sort of, in "Raining Twilight Coast" and "The Abyss"), chamber-pop ("August In Hammersmith") and chamber-blues-ballad ("Old Man Weather"). The instant singalong black-humoured hit is "Dismal City" that draws on the best of English music hall and pop traditions, right up The Kinks' "Dead End Street", "Big Black Smoke" etc. Robyn proves again he is the one to bring along the Syd Barrett heritage in "Everything About You". Both voice, bass and drum execution is taken straight from Syd's two solo albums The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. But Robyn is an artist in his own right and develops the tune further with a haunting and soaring guitar. Great!

There are two tracks included from Robyn's past. The aforementioned "Raining Twilight Coast" off Eye (from 1990, one of the highlights of the Hitchcock canon, almost complete Robyn solo only armed with his acoustic guitar and including "Queen Elvis", one of his best loved songs). Anyway, "Raining ..." fits nicely with this being an exclusive Norwegian release and the inside picture of Robyn on a grey day at a Norwegian fiord with a bit of snow or glacier in the hillsides and gloomy clouds hanging down from the mountains:

'I'm on the raining twilight coast
Sending out postcards to the one I love
And the rain falls up from the ground
No one sees it 'cause it's no one around'

The other one is "Godnatt Oslo", a revision of the previously mentioned title track, here with lyrics in Norwegian. Duely translated by Anne Lise Frøkendal of Robyn's Norwegian collaborator I Was A King. The other half of the duo, Frode Strømstad, runs the Hype City label and the two of them join Robyn on stage occasionally at gigs in Norway. Anyway, back to the translation. It's not only plain Norwegian, but so-called new Norwegian, the second written language in our country, juicier and closer to dialects in rural districts and old viking Norse than the Danish influenced more common and urban way to write. Robyn is not the master of the language, not yet at least, to say the least. I can only understand a handful of words he is singing, half of them being names of Norwegian towns (Oslo, Tromsø, Kristiansand). The end result is ... hilarious! But the soft arrangement with the cello up front makes this recording more spine-chilling and eclectic than the English version.

Well then, Tromsø, Kaptein has to do with steering your ship and end up at a random place. This time it turned out to be Tromsø. Thanks to Robyn and Hype City for making the landing in our country. This album is excellent and ought to gain a wider distribution than just Norway. 'Just one thing baby, You got my heart!'

Copyright © 2011 JP e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Robyn Hitchcock articles/reviews: Black Snake Diamond Role, Love From London, Man Upstairs.

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