Robyn Hitchcock, "Robyn Hitchcock" (Yep Roc Records)
Robyn Hitchcock rocks out on his new, self-titled album, restoring some electric zing to his guitar playing without any loss of melody.
Hitchcock's prolific career since The Soft Boys has often alternated between acoustic albums and electric ones but it's been a while since he plugged-in this convincingly.
He's lived in Nashville for a few years and there are distinctively Music City U.S.A. touches on some tunes — the tongue-in-cheek Johnny Cash tribute "I Pray When I'm Drunk" or the pedal steel guitar on "1970 in Aspic." Most of the rest, however, have that indelible stamp of Englishness Hitchcock expresses in such an unforced, if decidedly eccentric, way.
Hitchcock uses some Richard Thompson-like guitar tremors on "Virginia Woolf" for a visually raw take on her and Sylvia Plath's similarly self-inflicted demises. He empathizes without condoning — "Sometimes it hurts where you don't wanna hurt."
The Kinks once did the soundtrack for "Percy," a film based on a book by Hitchcock's father, Raymond. So it completes the circle that there are echoes of former Kinks frontman Ray Davies on "Raymond and The Wires," Hitchcock's heartfelt homage to his dad by way of a shared 1964 trolleybus ride.
"Autumn Sunglasses" has a psychedelic feel, its swirling backing vocals, strings and backward guitar all at the service of loopy lyrics and a Lennonesque melody.
Gillian Welch, Grant-Lee Phillips, Emma Swift and Wilco's Pat Sansone contribute vocals and Brendan Benson's crisp production boosts the guitar-centricity.
As for Hitchcock himself, well, the album's dynamic opener is "I Want To Tell You About What I Want." Auspiciously, he makes no concessions on the other nine songs, either.