ROBYN HITCHCOCK-THE MAN UPSTAIRS.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK-THE MAN UPSTAIRS.
Sometimes, dreams can come true. Growing up, Robyn Hitchcock had a dream. When he was fifteen, he dreamt that one day, Joe Boyd would produce one of his albums. Back in 1967, Joe Boyd was on his way to becoming one of the most successful producers of his generation.
Already, Joe Boyd’s production credits included already included Pink Floyd, the Incredible String Band, Soft Machine, The Purple Gang, Dave Swarbrick, Martin Carthy and Diz Disley. Joe would go on to produce the great and good of music.This includes Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Vashti Bunyan, John and Beverly Martyn, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Richard Thompson, R.E.M, June Tabor and Loudon Wainwright III. That’s just a few of the artists who Joe Boyd has produced. Now, a new ams joins that illustrious list, Robyn Hitchcock.
Forty-six years after he first dreamt that Joe Boyd would produce one of his albums, Robyn Hitchcock’s dream has come true. Joe produced Robyn’s latest album The Man Upstairs, which was released on 25th August 2014, by Yep Roc Records.
The Man Upstairs is just the latest release from the veteran singer, songwriter and musician, Robyn Hitchcock. He first came to prominence in the late seventies, as a member of The Soft Boys.
They formed in 1976 and released two albums, A Can Of Bees in 1979 and 1980s Underwater Moonlight. The Soft Boys split-up in 1981. Just like many bands, there have been subsequent reunions. However, it looked like the end for The Soft Boys in 1981. After this, Robyn decided to concentrate on his solo career.
Black Snake Diamond Role.
In 1981, Robyn released his debut album Black Snake Diamond Role. It featured several members of The Soft Boys. Released to critical acclaim Black Snake Diamond Role resulted in a great future being forecast for Robyn. However, his next album didn’t fare so well.
Groovy Decay was released in 1982. Robyn wasn’t happy with the album. This proved to be prescient. Critics hated the album. Eventually, so did Robyn. He disowned Groovy Decay and released a revised edition, Groovy Decoy. Following the disappointment of Groovy Decay, Robyn changed tack,
I Often Dream Of Trains.
I Often Dream Of Trains was an acoustic album. Released in 1984, it found favour with critics. The arrangements are stark and sparse, while the lyrics are poignant and full of imagery and emotion. They’ve also a cinematic quality. Robyn was back in vogue amongst critics. However, he seemed to miss being part of a band, so joined forces with The Egyptians.
Between 1985 and 1989, Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians released a quartet of albums. Their debut was 1985s Fegmania! Not long after Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians toured Fegmania!, a live album Gotta Let This Hen Out! was released. This was the start of a fruitful period in Robyn’s career.
Element Of Light followed in 1986, with Globe of Frogs following two years later in 1988. It featured Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze. This star studded collaboration resulted in Globe Of Frogs being hailed one of Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians’ finest albums. They weren’t going rest on their laurels and enjoy the critical acclaim. Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians had another album to record.
1989s Queen Elvis was the last album Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians released before he returned to his solo career. Just like the previous albums, Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians’ reputation was growing. No wonder. They were constantly touring. As for Robyn, he was perceived as one of the finest songwriters of his generation. That’s why high profile musicians like Peter Buck and Glenn Tilbrook were so keen to collaborate with Robyn. However, Robyn decided to put Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians on hold.
The reason for this was Robyn wanted to record another solo album. It was very different to the music he was making with Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians. Eye was another acoustic album. Stylistically, it’s in a similar style to I Often Dream Of Trains. Just like I Often Dream Of Trains, it was well received. Robyn seemed to be maturing as a lyricist with every album. After Eye’s release in 1990, Robyn began work on another Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians’ album.
So You Think You’re in Love?
On Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians’ next album, Robyn wrote the eleven songs. He was joined by Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of R.E.M. Having such esteemed guest artists paid off. So You Think You’re in Love gave Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians the biggest single of their career. It reached number one on the US Modern Rock charts. For Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians this was one of the high points of their career. The low point came two years later.
In 1993, Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians released their fourth and final album for A&M, Respect. It was recorded in Yarmouth, at Robyn’s home. This wasn’t a good time for Robyn. His father had died and Respect reflects that Robyn was still grieving. Respect was released to mixed reviews. After this, Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians went their separate ways.
Since the death of his father, Robyn hadn’t been near a recording studio. Then in 1996, Robin returned with Moss Elixir, another acoustic album. Again, reviews were mixed and Moss Elixir didn’t prove as popular as Robyn’s earlier albums. This must have affected Robyn, as it wasn’t until 1999 that he released another album, Jewels for Sophia.
Jewels for Sophia.
Jewels for Sophia was released in 1999. It featured guitarist Grant Lee Phillips, Peter Buck and Kimberley Lew, a former member of The Soft Boys. With such an illustrious cast, it’s no surprise that Jewels for Sophia proved a much more popular album. Released to critical acclaim, Robyn Hitchcock was back.
As the new millennia unfolded, Robyn returned with another album of acoustic material, Luxor. It’s a was a mixture of uptempo and introspective material. Many of the songs are love songs, which Robyn penned for his partner Michele Noach. Released in 2003, the Luxor seemed to divide opinion. The same would be said of Robyn’s next album Spooked.
Spooked was recorded in Nashville. Robyn collaborated with Gillian Welch on twelve new tracks and a cover of Bob Dylan’s Close The Door. During Spooked, Robyn introduces a cast of eccentric characters. They proved compelling. Especially as various scenarios unfold. During some of the scenarios, there’s a surreal nature. There’s also several references to death. Fans and critics were divided about Spooked, on its release in 2004. For Robyn this must have been a disappointment. So he changed tack and returned in 2006 with a new band.
By 2006, Robyn had a new band. He was billed as Robyn Hitchcock with The Venus 3. They released three albums between 2006 and 2010. Olé! Tarantula was recorded in Seattle and featured Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey of The Young Fresh Fellows and Bill Rieflin of Ministry. They were the Venus 3. Other guest artists included Morris Windsor and Kimberley Rew of The Soft Boys. Mostly, the reviews of Olé! Tarantula were positive. This augured well for their Robyn Hitchcock with The Venus 3’s future.
For many people, Robyn Hitchcock with The Venus 3’s finest moment was Goodnight Oslo. On its release in 2008, critics hailed the album one of Robyn’s best. This set the bar high for Robyn Hitchcock with The Venus 3’s swan-song.
Propellor Time was released in 2010. It featured an all-star cast. Among the guest artists were Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, Nick Lowe and former Soft Boy Morris Windsor. Not all of the tracks were new. Some had been recorded in 2006, at the Olé! Tarantula sessions. Belatedly, they made their debut on Propellor Time which was well received upon its release. Robyn Hitchcock with The Venus 3 bowed out in style.
When Robyn released his next album Tromsø, Kaptein, in 2011, it was on the Norwegian label Hype City Records. This was a much lower profile release. However, this being Robyn Hitchcock, it was a case of expect the unexpected. The music, which was described as jangle pop, was quite different. Robyn the musical chameleon was still exploring new styles. He returned to familiar territory on Love from London.
Love from London.
This was the case Love from London. Released in 2013, Love from London was described as folk pop. It was well received by critics and fans alike. Aged sixty, Robyn Hitchcock was maturing with age. He was the musical equivalent of a fine wine.
The Man Upstairs.
A year later, Robyn is back with another new album, The Man Upstairs. Produced by Joe Boyd, it’s a mixture of cover versions and new tracks.
There’s covers of The Psychedelic Furs’ The Ghost in You, Roxy Music’s To Turn You On, Grant-Lee Phillips’ Don’t Look Down and The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship. There’s also a cover of De From Comstad and Ann Lise Frokedal’s Ferries. Robyn contributes San Francisco Patrol, Trouble In Your Blood, Somebody To Break Your Heart, Comme Toujours and Recalling The Truth. These ten tracks make up from The Man Upstairs. This should be a compelling album from Robyn Hitchcock. Is that the case though?
A cover of The Psychedelic Furs’ The Ghost In You opens The Man Upstairs. Robyn counts his band and firmly strums his guitar. Before long Robyn’s unmistakable vocal enters. It’s a mixture of excitement, frustration and sadness. Especially. when he sings: “love, love, love, you couldn’t give it away” and later, “love is only a heaven away.” Meanwhile, the understated arrangement provides the perfect foil to Robyn’s vocal. Just strings, piano and guitar accompany him. Anything else would be overkill as he reinvents a familiar track.
San Francisco Patrol is a Robyn Hitchcock song. A crystalline guitar and cello set the seen for Robyn. His vocal is full of pain and pathos, as he sings about love gone wrong. Accompanied by a tender female vocal, he lays bare his soul. One of his most telling lyrics is “I’m talking to myself, as if I was someone else.” So real does Robyn make the heartbreak and loneliness seem, it’s as if he’s lived and survived it.
Bryan Ferry wrote To Turn You On. Roxy Music are responsible for the definitive version. Robyn’s comes a close second. The song is given an understated makeover by Robyn. One thing that isn’t lacking is emotion. Robyn’s vocal is needy and emotive. Longing and sometimes, desperation fills his voice. Especially when he sings “I’d do anything To Turn You On.” When he sings “I’d even leave you,” you realise that he doesn’t mean it. The way he he delivers the lyrics it’s almost as if he’s obsessed. This results in a powerful take on a familiar song.
Just guitars and subtle harmonies accompany Robyn on Trouble In Your Blood. Slowly he delivers the lyrics. There’s a sadness in his voice as he sings “there’s Trouble In Your Blood” and “later, you don’t know what you do to me.” Pizzicato strings are sprinkled across the arrangement, as Robyn becomes thoughtful. It’s as if he can’t help himself. He loves her but knows it’s no good. That’s why there’s a sadness in his voice. He knows what he should do, but can’t.
A bluesy harmonica helps drive Somebody To Break Your Heart along. Robyn’s vocal is urgent, and full of frustration. This comes out in his playing. He strums urgently on his guitar. Meanwhile the bass helps drive the arrangement along. The arrangement seems to mix elements of blues, R&B rockabilly. Sadly, it doesn’t quite work. It’s not through lack of effort. All the time the blues harmonica drifts in and out, accompanying Robyn’s vocal. His vocal is good, but not great. What lets him down is the arrangement.
From the distance, the arrangement to Don’t Look Down arrives. It’s understated and beautiful. Just a guitar accompanies Robyn. Tenderly and thoughtfully he sings. A crystalline guitar and whispery backing vocals enter. They melt into the arrangement as Robyn delivers one of his finest vocals. This more than makes up for the previous track. There’s an intimacy in Don’t Look Down. It’s as if Robyn is singing to someone. The listener is an onlooker and privileged to hear this beautiful song.
Gone is the intimacy of the previous track. Ferries sees Robyn seek inspiration from his past. Accompanied by his trusty guitar and backing vocalist he delivers an impassioned, pleading vocal. The lyrics have a cinematic quality. It’s a case of closing your eyes and watching the scenes unfold. There’s a poignancy and sadness in the lyrics. Robyn accentuates this by briefly unleashing his electric guitar. This works well and results in a moving cover of a hidden gem.
Comme Toujours has a wistful, thoughtful sound. Again, it’s a pensive Robyn and his acoustic guitar. Strings add to the sense of melancholia. Robyn’s vocal veers between hopeful to despairing, as seamlessly, he switches between French and English. Later, he accusingly sings: “look at this broken heart, it’s yours” and wistfully, “I’ll think of you forever.” This mixture of hurt, hope and heartbreak is vintage Robyn Hitchcock. It’s another example of what Robyn Hitchcock at his best, is capable of.
Covering The Doors’ The Crystal Ship was never going to be easy. Slowed way down, with just piano, strings and acoustic guitar for company The Crystal Ship takes on new life and meaning. This reinvention works well. Sometimes, Robyn reminds me of Al Stewart in his prime. Al had the ability to bring songs to life. So has Robyn. Here, he combines drama and emotion seamlessly.
Closing The Man Upstairs is Recalling the Truth. A thoughtful Robyn is accompanied by a chiming guitar and breathy backing vocals. Memories come flooding back as his vocal veers between tender and thoughtful to powerful, as it soars above the arrangement. Always, Robyn sings the lyrics with feeling and despair. As he sings “you’ve been gone to wrong,” hurt shines through. This results in a beautiful and moving song, that’s the perfect way to close The Man Upstairs.
It’s taken forty-six years for Robyn Hitchcock’s dream to come true. He always wanted Joe Boyd to produce one of his album. Forty-six years after he first dreamt that Joe Boyd would produce one of his albums, Robyn Hitchcock’s dream has come true. Joe Boyd produced Robyn’s latest album The Man Upstairs, which was released on 25th August 2014, by Yep Roc Records. It’s a welcome addition to Robyn Hitchcock’s back-catalogue.
The Joe Boyd produced The Man Upstairs which is, without doubt, one of Robyn’s best albums of recent years. It’s an old-school album. This isn’t a sprawling album where the artist is determined to fill the compact disc. No. It only features ten songs. They’re a mixture of cover versions and new songs. Many of them pay benefit from an understated intimacy. It’s just Robyn and a small band. His vocals take centre-stage as he reinvents familiar and new tracks.
There’s covers of The Psychedelic Furs’ The Ghost in You, Roxy Music’s To Turn You On, Grant-Lee Phillips’ Don’t Look Down and The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship. There’s also a cover of De From Comstad and Ann Lise Frokedal’s Ferries. Each of these tracks are given an inventive makeover. They work and work well. New life and meaning is brought to familiar tracks. Then there’s Robyn’s new songs.
Robyn contributes five tracks. They’re San Francisco Patrol, Trouble In Your Blood, Somebody To Break Your Heart, Comme Toujours and Recalling The Truth. Four of them work. Sadly, Somebody To Break Your Heart doesn’t. It’s a mish mash of influences and disappoints. That’s a pity because there’s a good song shining through. That’s the only disappointing track on The Man Upstairs. Apart from that, its quality all the way.
It was well worth Robyn Hitchcock waiting so long for Joe Boyd to produce one of his albums. Robyn’s patience was rewarded withThe Man Upstairs, an album that showcases Robyn Hitchcock at his best. He’s a talented singer, songwriter and musician, whose career has spanned over forty years. He has released over twenty albums with The Soft Boys, The Egyptians and The Venus 3. The Man Upstairs is just the latest addition to Robyn Hitchcock’s back-catalogue, and finds Robyn back to his very best.
For the newcomer to Robyn Hitchcock’s music, then The Man Upstairs is the perfect starting point. After that, there’s plenty more music to discover. However, The Man Upstairs is the perfect introduction to Robyn Hitchcock.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK-THE MAN UPSTAIRS.
- Posted in: Indie Rock ♦ Rock
- Tagged: Joe Boyd, Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians, Robyn Hitchcock with The Venus 3, The Soft Boys