Monday, September 11, 2006

Crustaceans and Curdled Love: Something You Don't Care About

Since Friday, old Robyn Hitchcock albums have been turning up in my mailbox at a rate of exactly one per postal day, like an avant garde advent calendar.

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a copy of his Globe of Frogs on vinyl at Reckless. $2.99, as I recall. A few days later, poring over the liner notes and album art, I decided I wanted to give it a listen, but I don't currently have a record player, and it didn't show up in iTunes. I couldn't find the cd, either. Eventually I realized that I must have only had this album on cassette once upon a time. And all my cassettes (and my ability to play them) are long gone.

So I logged on to Amazon to rectify this mistake. I discovered huge sections of his back catalog are out of print entirely. Which makes sense, I guess, since he's never been a big sales artist, and he's put out close to 30 albums. I found a used copy of Globe of Frogs for about $15, added it to my cart, and attempted to check out. Amazon informed me that the seller no longer offered this item, and encouraged me to try again from someone else. Suddenly the album was not available for less than $40.

There are several other of his older albums which I've always meant to pick up. I looked around on Amazon and eBay and found many of these cds used but with out of print markups to around the price of a normal cd or slightly higher. Sensing that they are only going to get more expensive as time goes on, I bought copies of a few of the ones I'd either heard somewhere or read about over the years.

Robyn Hitchcock is one of those artists that I only really like when no one else is around. I have a tendency to listen to music with other people's ears when someone is in the room or the car or whatever, and while I can always find something Beatle-y when putting together a mix cd for someone, his songs and lyrics are truly strange most of the time. Dark, weird. And many people who have heard him seem to actively dislike him. He has an affinity (obsession? fetish?) for shellfish and decay. I have no idea at all what most of his songs might actually be about.

He used to play in a band called the Soft Boys, who were sort of the punk era's response to Captain Beefheart. Guitars playing contrasting leads, songs like "Yodelling Hoover," "(I Want to Be An) Anglepoise Lamp," "Sandra's Having Her Brain Out," and "It's Not Just the Size of a Walnut" coexisting peacefully alongside overly dramatic covers of "Heartbreak Hotel" and "We Like Bananas." I saw a poster where they were headlining a show with Squeeze and the Police opening up for them. Wonder whatever happened to those guys...

After Kimberley Rew left the Soft Boys (he ended up in Katrina and the Waves), Hitchcock went solo. He put out an intimate album called Groovy Decay, which flopped so badly that he retired for a couple of years before putting out I Often Dream of Trains, which got a good response from his tiny fanbase. He later deleted Groovy Decay, then put out a version called Groovy Decoy. Now both versions are apparently available on a cd called Gravy Deco.

Jonathan Demme and Grant Lee Phillips have both tried to help his career in the last few years, the latter collaborating on a tour and DVD of them together, the former filming Storefront Hitchcock, an intimate solo concert film. It's no Stop Making Sense, but it's nice to see him getting some recognition. In the late 80s/early 90s R.E.M. members used to make cameos on his records, but I'm not sure that'd exactly help him anymore.

There's something I find really fascinating about him and his music, though. And soon I will have most of his albums I've been missing out on. Except Globe of Frogs. That's still $40. C'mon, me out with a reissue?


Anonymous said...

There's a recent album of his called "television" that I have been meaning to check out for a year or two. It got really good press and is of interest to me because his "backing band" is Gillian Welch & David Rawlings. This does not however mean I've spent the money for it yet.


The Moon Topples said...


The album is called Spooked (the first song is "television") and I don't know if you'd like it more or less than other stuff of his. Most of the album sounds pretty much like Robyn Hitchcock to me. He's always experimented with instrumentation and such, so this wasn't as different as you might be thinking. I think his style tends to overwhelm whatever else is going on.

It is a little moodier, maybe. And I think you'd really like the cover of Bob Dylan's "Trying To Get To Heaven Before They Close The Door."