Thursday, December 19, 2013

My 2013 Top Ten Albums

Robyn Hitchcock -- Love From London

"Strawberry Dress"

And now for something completely different.

If Robyn Hitchcock released an album of himself singing in the shower, I'd buy it, and probably would love it. Beneath the oddball lyrics, the wicked gleams of British wit, an innate melodic musicality always wins through in Robyn's music. He's a prolific fellow, but I never get the feeling (as I do with some musicians) that he's just cranking out music just for the money. No, I get the feeling that he's just blessed with a fertile imagination, unhindered by silly things like logic or public image or trying to be "relevant." He's never relevant; he's off in his own universe. But I'll take a voyage to Planet Robyn anytime I can.

 Last I wrote about this album, back in April, I was hypnotized by track 3, "Stupefied." But even then, I think, I knew that my favorite song was going to wind up being the deliciously trippy "Strawberries Dress."

It's that insistently repeated guitar riff that draws me in, spangling verse after verse like fairy dust. Over it floats Robyn's reverbed vocal, sounding breathy and dazzled; the girl backup singers, too, fade in and out like gusts of breeze. Every once in a while a little prayer bell chimes, and a cello sighs. It's meticulously textured to seem graceful, whimsical, perhaps a little flower-child-y.  But it's got backbone, too, with an irresistible lungey beat and surging upward chord shifts.

This is a song that purposefully jogs you out of your lazy aural habits. That melodic line skips and circles around, flouting the usual tonal groove; it's unpredictable and mesmerizing. The lyrics are a riddling, teasing terza rima (what, no four-line verses?) that drift along on their own imagistic stream of consciousness. As I dive down into the song, trying to make sense of them, unable to guess where they're going, I am officially hooked.

For the record, here they are:

Telecom tower
the tree doesn't reach 
above your head

Elegant flower 
the scene doesn't change 
around your heart 

From the chimneys
to the pink horizon
(pink horizon)

Testing your power
I dream in the rain 
A fine young sprite
naked from the navel downwards

I see you kiss the sun
I see you walk the dog and turn away

You, I'm so weak with you
I'm scared that you'll explode
or walk away *

You in your strawberries dress 
You in your strawberries dress 
You in your strawberries dress ...

* Whatever this verse means, it is disconcertingly sexy...

"Strawberries Dress" is a bit like "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," but not as in-your-face psychedelic; this is a much more mellow trip (and with a way less draggy beat). Think of it as a tone poem -- a very very daffy tone poem. There's an offbeat grace about the whole enterprise, and it charms me to my toes.

1 comment:

Uncle E said...

I absolutely DIG this album! One of his finest, and you did a terrific job explaining why.
By the by, have you had a chance to look up his undervalued contemporary, Jazz Butcher? If you do, please start with his early-mid '80's albums first (A Scandal In Bohemia, Sex and Travel, Distressed Gentlefolk). Very similar in style and humor to Hitchcock.