Robyn Hitchcock: Jewels For Sophia
Here’s a weird one. I was in a local record store that was downsizing and asked to look through a box of used cd’s, hoping I’d find a..he he he…jewel or two. The owner, whom I know, told me that would be fine. Didn’t find much, but then came upon this album by Robyn Hitchcock. It was in outstanding condition, and when I asked what he wanted for it he told me $1.00. I dug 2 quarters, 2 dimes and 6 nickels out of my pocket, paid the man, and threw it in my car stereo. I’ve always liked Hitchcock, but he’s one of those artists whose albums you’ve got to spend a lot of time with before the charms reveal themselves. He’s a weirdo, in the Syd Barrett sense of the word. There is nothing straight forward about anything he has done in his many decades of existence in the music industry. Allmusic states that he is the closest thing the alternative genre has to a Bob Dylan. Part folk, part psychedelic, part punk, part rock, 100% English. This variety (some would say musical schizophrenia) is the reason America has never “gotten” his music and the reason his die-hard fans worship the ground he walks on. That said, some of his records can be a tad spotty, such as ‘85’s “Groovy Decoy”, ‘91’s “Perspex Island and 2003’s “Luxor”. All contain some great tunes, but as a whole these albums are lacking in consistency and cohesiveness. 24 or so albums in 30 years is prolific and to have only 3 “duds”, only 10%, is an amazing accomplishment. I’ll admit that making the commitment to dig through his discography is a daunting task, but it’s an oath I’ve undertaken nonetheless. So far I’ve got “I Often Dream Of Trains”, “Fegmania!”, “Element Of Light”, “Spooked”, “Shadow Cat”, “Ole! Tarantula”, “Propeller Time” and the afore mentioned “Jewels For Sophia” (more on that in a minute). Once you get into his frame of mind it’s hard to get him off your turntable (or out of your cd player, or whatever device you choose to listen to him on). He’s the good kind of infectious, and his stuff is forever intriguing.
My favorites thus far are “Trains”, Fegmania!”, “Shadow Cat” and, now, “Jewels For Sophia”.
Allmusic states: “What a fine piece of work! Without altering his established formula, it’s clear the one-time Soft Boys leader has hit on a good vein. No need for lush production, even if it worked well on some of his earlier ’90s albums such as Perspex Island. Jewels just collects all his strengths. On the folk-rock numbers such as the strident “Mexican God,” Hitchcock relies on a six-string acoustic and some light percussion. For the more lithe pop of “Sally Was a Legend,” it’s all restrained electric guitar and nimble, unobtrusive bass and drums to keep it smooth. A darker, scratchier, more foreboding ’60s rock arrives on the low-down stomp of “Antwoman,” or the more zippy, neo-Stones rockers “Elizabeth Jade” and “Viva! Sea-Tac.” Lastly, a new, studio version of Storefront Hitchcock’s solo-unplugged “I Don’t Remember Guilford” is fleshed out with a somber piano, lugubrious violin, and old-West harmonica to make the tune sparkle even more. He has plenty of help, too. More than two decades after first launch, Commander Hitchcock is still firing super-creative rockets. Jewels indeed.”
It’s refreshing to discover that an older artist still has the stuff, and even more refreshing to find one of his best for only a buck.