Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Confiscated Dreams: Robyn Hitchcock's Ten Best Albums

This June marks the thirty-first anniversary of The Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight. It's as good an occasion as any to celebrate the work of Soft Boy and solo artist Robyn Hitchcock, whose vast and confusing body of work is, with several exceptions, a treasure. I can't find a list of Hitchcock's best best albums online, so I'll observe the birthday of one of my very favorite albums with this career-spanning Robyn Hitchcock Top Ten.

1. Underwater Moonlight, The Soft Boys (1980)
A record whose punkish energy is so warped by the Soft Boys' surreal touch as to render it a phenomenon unto itself. Very unlike anything Hitchcock, his bandmates, contemporaries, or followers would ever produce. A twisted, shimmering jewel of an album, one of the best ever made.

2. Olé! Tarantula, Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 (2006)
Achieving the long-sought synthesis of Syd Barrett with Reckoning-era, R.E.M. Robyn and his new group--which happens to include Peter Buck--play it loose and jangly, fitting accompaniment for a vocalist who has abandoned his lower register.

3. I Often Dream Of Trains, Robyn Hitchcock (1984)
The wintry Trains is the finest among Hitchcock's (many) folk-leaning efforts. It also contains some of his darkest material, circling back to schizophrenia and nostalgia even in its lighter moments.

4. A Can Of Bees, The Soft Boys (1979)
A wry, post-punk take on blues rock, sounding like a terrible nightmare that the dinosaurs and the punks could both disavow. But the Soft Boys were too good to completely obscure the heavenly melodies of their "human music."

5. Gotta Let This Hen Out!, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians (1985)
Hitchcock is no virtuoso, but his taste in collaborators has been superb (Soft Boys/Egyptians bassist Andy Metcalfe deserves special mention). This live set bears witness to the prowess of the Egyptians, featuring definitive versions of several Hitchcock tunes.

6. Queen Elvis, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians (1989)
Hitchcock and the Egyptians at their most majestic, with several moments of Beatlesque clarity amongst the tangled guitar figures.

7. Invisible Hits, The Soft Boys (1983)
More invisible than ever, after Yep Roc phased it out (the same is true of #9). Fuck that, these sixteen songs--scrappy oddities heavy on the low-end--are a main course, even if they are scattered footnotes.

8. Element of Light, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians (1986)
Then-current production gets in the way now--not the only 80's record here to bear that distinction--but the diversity and quality of the songwriting shines through. Element's brightest moments soar, or are at least hilarious.

9. Invisible Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock (1986)
A ravishing hodgepodge, covering 1981-85, and featuring several stone cold classics. Askance folk and labyrinthine grooves dominate.

10. Fegmania!, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians (1985)
"You've got arms and you've got legs and you've got heaven," Robyn sings in an especially distinctive Hitchcock moment. It's also telling that this is the third entrant with an exclamation point in its title. Fegmania's colorful baubles are distintively Hitchcockian--accounting for its fan-favorite status--if not always top shelf.

3 comments:

  1. I almost entirely agree with this list - remarkable given the scope of his catalog! I'd swap "You & Oblivion" in for "Can Of Bees", though. "Ole Tarantula" is indeed sublime, though the other two Venus 3 albums have top tier work as well (especially the title track from "Goodnight Oslo").

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  2. Thanks for stopping by!

    I've warmed to "Goodnight Oslo" since it came out--lot of great stuff on there--but can't agree about "Propellor Time." There is an aborted post somewhere about how I think that alternate versions of "Sicky Boy" and "Afterlight" (on official releases) are markedly better than the ones that wound up on the album.

    You're right about "You & Oblivion" though, it collects a lot of good stuff.

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  3. You got to be shitting me -how can you possibly omit BLACK SNAKE DIAMOND ROLE from this list? Gratefully free of throwaway guff (unlike some of his later albums) this record is RH firing on all cylinders at his most melodically inventive. Queen Elvis is very patchy by comparison.

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