The Man Upstairs, is a good record mind; and a sort of refocus, even a realignment, where the Hitch gently polishes his psychicke crystal ball, often using other Sonic Mages' cloths.
Robyn Hitchcock is a brilliant and well-loved cove whose back catalogue (with the odd dip and sway) has earned him the right to do what he wants. And that's his big problem. I've been a massive (and I mean massive) fan of his work for over a quarter of a century now; long enough to note that sometimes his releases can be just there, or thereabouts. Always pleasing, always fun, and never a cause for worry, but, just, well... marking time. For every Storefront Hitchcock, Moss Elixir, Spooked or Underwater Moonlight there's something like Nextdoorland or Perspex Island.
This new one, The Man Upstairs, is a good record mind; and a sort of refocus, even a realignment, where the Hitch gently polishes his psychicke crystal ball, often using other Sonic Mages' cloths. It certainly doesn't hurt that he is able to deconstruct a few covers from Bryan Ferry (To Turn You On) The Doors (a brilliant version of The Crystal Ship) and Grant Lee Phillips (Don't Look Down) to such great effect. Before you think that 6 covers on a 10 song LP is a sign that he's losing it, it must be pointed out that Robyn Hitchcock has a long, and pretty distinguished track record in working with other peoples' sounds. He's damned good at it; and on his LPs, covers aren't in any way a distraction. To Turn You On, for example, sounds a million (nay a gazillion) times better than the Roxy version. Somehow it sounds sinister, and sensual; wrapped up in a set of (trademark) reedy gasps. And I must admit it did make me chuckle (given some catty sleevenotes on the 90s reissue of Robyn's solo debut, Black Snake Diamond Role) that the opener is a cover of the Psychedelic Furs' The Ghost In You. Nevertheless this (again) shows off the best of Robyn Hitchcock; a poignant and accessible take with a dash of the English Wyrd that is impossible to pin down.
Some of his new songs are killer too; Somebody to Break Your Heart is a gem; something that could be part of his golden mid to late 80s run, subversive, funnny, revelling in the beautiful hooks and melodies and full of unsettling lyrics. Marvellous. The same can be said for the brilliant Comme toujours and San Fransisco Patrol. One other thing in this LP's favour; it's produced by Joe Boyd. Now that can be - again - something that could have led to a certain sense of the pair resting on their laurels through this association and (frankly) winging it. But the sound on this LP is of classic 60's folk; clear, sometimes sparkling and intense, albeit with a heavy dollop of raga here and there. It's clear that Boyd understands Hitchcock, and looks to clear the paths he treads. Now and again I'd have liked a bit more contrast and lushness, as you hear on the brilliant Eye, say, but this is a record that gives a lot and rewards patience and hard listening.
For sure this is a record for fans and something of a reflective release, but then it's Robyn Hitchcock, nuff said.