British psychedelic evergreen remains on playfully brilliant form.
Stevie Chick 2010-03-19
One of the UK’s most endearing and enduring psychedelic treasures, Robyn Hitchcock has long balanced consistency with a prolific creative nature that shows no sign of abating. Propellor Time is the third album Hitchcock has recorded since 2006 with his Venus 3, a trio with impressive CVs, numbering Young Fresh Fellow Scott McCaughey on bass, ex-Ministry sticksman Bill Rieflin on drums, and REM’s Peter Buck on 12-string and acoustic guitars. Further celebrity cameos include Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, kindred spirit Nick Lowe and ex-Smith/current-Crib Johnny Marr, underscoring the high esteem in which Hitchcock is held by his peers, but never overshadowing his most idiosyncratic talents with their contributions.
Hitchcock’s self-confessed key influences include Revolver-era Beatles, Dylan at his peak and Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, artists who’ve inspired a deluge of overly-reverent copycats in the decades since. No retro-poseur, Hitchcock has instead been refracting their music through a most inimitable and idiosyncratic filter since his Soft Boys first surfaced in the late 70s, and while echoes of his heroes are present within Propellor Time’s effervescent melodies and charming tunefulness, the voice is always unmistakeably his own.
That voice is one informed by a most contagious optimism, delivered with a word-lover’s wit which never cloys. The sweetly folky idle of Luckiness finds Hitchcock celebrating good fortune with a Steve Harley-esque twang, a zephyr of a song as uplifting as finding a tenner on the bus. The romantic swoon of opener Star of Venus is soft-hearted and starry-eyed enough to charm any Flaming Lips fan, while aching closer Evolove debates the existential questions with a warmth and wisdom that’ll stop you in your tracks. It’s this normally-sanguine lyrical tenor that makes the album’s darker turns all the more poignant: the melancholic Ordinary Millionaire, penned with Johnny Marr, sounds haunted with an enigmatic regret; the dreamy stream-of-consciousness of John in the Air, meanwhile, is underpinned by a sense of psychedelic unease, an eerie tension.
Propellor Time is, in short, another fine Robyn Hitchcock album, proving that, almost 35 years into his recording career, his gift for crafting such perfectly-imperfect, winningly-askew pop as strong as ever. To his loyal followers, this is great news; to the uninitiated, this is where to begin your journey into the Hitchcockverse.