Saturday, November 1, 2008

Robyn Hitchcock, "Luminous Groove"

I just finished listening to all of Robyn Hitchcock's box set, "Luminous Groove" this week, and I'm blown away by it. It's a 5-CD set, so I'm not going to go over everything thoroughly right this minute. Suffice it to say, if you like Robyn, you'll love this box set. It includes Robyn's first three albums with his backing band the Egyptians, which was basically Robyn's former band the Soft Boys, minus Kimberely Rew. Rew went on to form Katrina and the Waves, and wrote "Walking on Sunshine." (Do you think people were ever confused when they found out that Kimberely and Robyn are both guys?) Anyway, the three albums are "Fegmania!" the live "Gotta Let This Hen Out!" and "Element of Light." All three albums show Robyn's signature writing style backed by a band that knew how to get the most out of his melodies. Robyn's lead electric guitar is given a very prominent role on these three discs, and it shows what a great guitar player he is. The melodies are jangly and catchy, and it was during this time period, the mid 1980's, that Robyn started to develop a cult following in the US.

Robyn is a great songwriter, but it's difficult for me to separate the wheat from the chaff. I generally like all of his songs, but it's tough to pick one over the others. It's like, "Okay, this song is good, it has a catchy melody and weird lyrics. Okay, the next song also has a catchy melody and weird lyrics. Okay, ALL of his songs have catchy melodies and weird lyrics!" That's perhaps a slight exaggeration, but Robyn's music is very consistent, and I mean that in a good way. He has a real gift for crafting memorable melodies and creating interesting images with his lyrics. I think Robyn could have had more mainstream success with his work if he had stopped writing about jam and bees and fish and wrote simpler, more mundane lyrics, because his melodies are so catchy, but I'm sure the surreal writing style makes it hard for some people to follow his music. I certainly can't claim to understand all of his lyrics. But if he simplified his writing style, he wouldn't be being true to himself and his vision. I'm glad that Robyn has followed his own path, clearly he didn't want to sell out.

In addition to the three albums, "Luminous Groove" also includes a 2-CD set of rarities, "A Bad Case of History." One disc is unreleased studio recordings, and one disc is live recordings. (Some of the live recordings come from Minneapolis's legendary concert venue First Avenue.) These two discs are excellent, they show how in sync the Egyptians were.

Some of the standouts on this set are:

Egyptian Cream
I'm Only You
My Wife and My Dead Wife
The Cars She Used to Drive-live
Somewhere Apart-(which could pass as a John Lennon song from Double Fantasy)
Beautiful Queen
So You Think You're In Love-live
Chimes of Freedom-live
The Wreck of the Arthur Lee-live

If you like Robyn, check out "Luminous Groove." You won't be disappointed.


Holly A Hughes said...

Oh, man, am I happy you're on a Robyn Hitchcock jag. I've been told he's an acquired taste, but it didn't take more than 30 seconds for me to acquire it. Catchy melodies and weird lyrics always do it for me.

How are the rarities in the box set? I'm so tempted, even though I already have two of the three albums.

I just wish Nick Lowe were as happy as Robyn is about releasing and re-releasing every scrap of music he's ever recorded. But I guess that's part and parcel of Robyn's stream-of-consciousness writing style; it's all vague and off-kilter, so why not record it all! Some people might find it unpolished; I find it dynamic and thrilling.

Of course, I also think he's hot. But that's just me.

Mark said...

It took a couple of plays of "I Often Dream of Trains" for me to really "get" Robyn, but I am now fully convinced that he is a genius.

I thought the rarities were amazing, I liked them more than the rarities on "I Wanna Go Backwards." I think it would probably be worth it for you to buy the set, for the one album you don't have and the rarities.

I just watched the documentary about Robyn, "Sex, Food, Death and Insects," and he actually talks about his prolixity. He says, "My friend Nick Lowe is working on a new record, and he's just waiting for 3 more top-shelf songs to enter his head. I may have issued too many records in my career. Oh well." I wish Nick would dig into his archives a little more. I think it's great how much stuff Robyn puts out, though it is a tad overwhelming. Like I said, I find just about everything he does pretty interesting.

Robyn's a very handsome lad. He reminds me a little of George Harrison, with the dark brown hair and eyes, (before Robyn went gray)and the very serious gaze he often gives the camera, and their deadpan humor is very similar.

Holly A Hughes said...

I have tickets to see him this coming Saturday night, performing the whole I Often Dream of Trains album (though apparently he doesn't do Furry Green Atom Bowl, which disappoints me greatly!). I agree he's a handsome lad. Devastating, in fact. But then I've always been a sucker for snarky absurdist wit.

I loved that documentary! Though there wasn't enough Nick Lowe in it, there was plenty of Peter Buck, and he's been growing on me lately too.

Mark said...

Aw, lucky you! I have yet to see Robyn live, he was in the Twin Cities last fall, but that was like 3 weeks before I knew who he was! It would be fun to see him perform all of I Often Dream of Trains, it's such a great album. Sad that he doesn't do Furry Green Atom Bowl! I've heard that they're taping some of the Train shows for a DVD, guess I'll have to wait for that.

My girlfriend watched the documentary with me and said, "He's really not very good-looking." But then again she also thought he was gay, because he called himself "Princess Robyn." I explained it was just Robyn being Robyn...I agree, there could have been more Nick Lowe in the documentary. I loved getting to eavesdrop on Robyn running through his songs, fascinating!