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Not An Album For Narrow-Minded Fans
on March 16, 2003
Robyn Hitchcock is one of England's most enduring contemporary singer/songwriters and live performers, although he's been branded eccentric and quirky during the course of his long career. Hitchcock started his recording career with the Soft Boys, a punk-era band specializing in melodic pop merged with comedic lyrics. His voice veers between John Lennon and Syd Barrett, helping to nurture his madman reputation, but his true influences lie more in English folk-rock; his guitar and vocal style and lyrical inanities recall Incredible String Band or Roy Harper. -- Denise Sullivan, All Music Guide
Robyn Hitchcock is one of pop's great surrealists, an artist whose work has the appearance of familiarity yet none of its reassurance. While he often gets compared to poor old Syd Barrett (an acknowledged influence), this London native has closer relations outside the music world: Rene Magritte (logic-defying juxtapositions), Marcel Duchamp (dada absurdity), Edward Lear (whimsical, grotesque fabrications), Charles Addams (gloomy, cartoonish venom). Displaying a keen sense of irony as well as a dry, put-on (and put-upon) wit, Hitchcock's creations - in song, story, graphics and film - erect puzzling layers of incredibility that stymie presumptions about motivation or meaning. At his worst, when his penchant for self-amusement runs away with him (as it sometimes does), Hitchcock can be far too self-conscious in his pretense of eccentricity, making nonsense seem equally glib and random. At his best, however, he wields bizarre imagery brilliantly to make stealth runs at life's most challenging problems, elevating the mundane to provocative art. Not truly a rock musician and too arch to be a folkie, Hitchcock has recorded both solo and with a group ever since dissolving the influential and offbeat new wave band, the Soft Boys, in 1980.
Hitchcock made Respect with XTC production alumnus, John Leckie. It (mostly) paid off in a febrile high-tech album unlike anything in Hitchcock's background. With loads of lush vocal harmonies and digital drums, keyboards and computers, many of the arrangements downplay guitar for an artificial sound that works once you get used to it. Leckie smartly picks up on both sides of a divided set of songs, modestly respecting the serious/solemn ones ("Arms of Love," "Serpent at the Gates of Wisdom," "Then You're Dust") and letting the madcap reins out for Hitchcock's entertaining return to hallucinatory wordplay ("The Yip Song," "Railway Shoes," "The Wreck of the Arthur Lee," "When I Was Dead," the utterly ridiculous "Wafflehead"). Not a good place to start and not an album for narrow-minded fans, Respect is a tight squeeze through a narrow passage that leads Hitchcock safely out of one realm and into the grander possibilities of another. -- Ira Robbins, Trouser Press