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Robyn Hitchcock Spooked Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

The playing is, in places, beautiful and Hitchcock's lyrics glimmer and rattle like...

Rob Webb 2004

Listening to the opening line from Robyn Hitchcock's splendid new album, you might be forgiven for thinking that our man is making a bid for the Eurovision Song Contest. 'Bing-a-bong-a-bing-bong-bing-bong', he sings. But, no, Hitchcock is not following in the footsteps of his one-time compatriot Kimberly Rew, who penned the Euro hit "Walking On Sunshine" with Katrina and the Waves. In fact, "Television" is a wistful, biting serenade to telly, in all its manifest forms: 'You're the Devil's fishbowl honey / I undress before your lies.' Hitchcock explains his love/hate for the goggle-box in much the same way that Elvis Costello once did for radio. It's a great start to the album.

Spooked, Hitchcock's latest all-acoustic venture, finds him in cohorts with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, the acoustic partnership that has done so much to raise the profile of American indie folk in recent years. Welch contributes acoustic guitar, bass and drums. Rawlings tackles the Dobro (on the track "SometimesA Blonde") and, curiously, the Wurlitzer. Adding to the exotic flavour, Hitchcock plays electric sitar on a couple of tracks, giving a George Harrison feel to the already dreamy "Everybody Needs Love".

Elsewhere, "English Girl" must be the only song to rhyme 'girl' with 'Ronald Searle' (the cartoonist-creator of St Trinian's school for young minxes). It's suitably English, of course, but Hitchcock, as ever, has his feet on both sides of the Atlantic. "Creeped Out" draws on Hitchcock's own beginnings as a Syd Barrett fan, as well as the sounds of those he has inspired.

Another man who has pulled like the moon on Robyn's songwriting is Bob Dylan, and on his "Tryin' To Get To Heaven Before They Close The Door", the only cover on the album, Robyn is an Anglicised Dylan of sorts, stuck in Missouri but still tangled up in Cambridge blues. "Welcome to Earth" is an amusing tour-guide introduction to our planet aimed, presumably, at alien visitors.

Despite its unplugged, bare-boned sound, Spooked is packed with stuff to listen to. The playing is, in places, beautiful and Hitchcock's lyrics glimmer and rattle like diamonds in a tobacco tin. The songs, smart, funny and sad, are peppered with references to things as disparate as ocelots and millipedes,goblins and ghouls; there's even the odd love song or two. Fans of the man won't be disappointed. Newcomers to Hitchcock, familiar perhaps with Welch's albums, will be intrigued to hear one of the great influences on American alt-folk and indie rock of the last two decades.

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