Welch and Rawlings seem to have brought a new focus and more importantly to have raised the competition bar, almost brought Mr H out of himself a bit. And this is a good thing.
I was trying to think of a suitable beginning to this review for quite a while, (you know, rabbit on about Hitchcock and what a legend he is blah blah) but, in the end, decided to cut to the chase. There is precious little to say about Spooked, really, except to note that it's utterly brilliant and his best studio album in at least fifteen years. There. You've got the essentials. You can, if you now wish, read on safe in the knowledge that all that follows on this subject is mere embroidery, an interesting divertissement.
For Spooked, Mr. H collaborated with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, best known to the lazy as two of the artists off the "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack. Previously, old Soft Boys or passing REM people would normally have lent a hand. The new personnel around Robyn H certainly seems to have given him a pep up. Very welcome actually, as for me, the last few lps for me have been somewhat patchy, in that for every gem there were blokey jam tracks or songs that could have been best described as Hitchcock by numbers, Hitchcock pressing the auto pilot button, Hitchcock playing up to his image (by now surely set in stone) of endearing, wordy eccentric. All fine and dandy, but, when you've released work as brilliant as Eye, I often Dream of Trains, and Globe of Frogs all new stuff is bound to suffer by comparison. Welch and Rawlings seem to have brought a new focus and more importantly to have raised the competition bar, almost brought Mr H out of himself a bit. And this is a good thing.
Actually there are twelve good things, in the form of the songs on this album, ten of them brand spanking new (the other two consist of a great Dylan cover and "Creeped Out", surely a superior re-working of "Mexican God" off Jewels for Sophia).
Spooked starts with a set of three tracks, "Television", "If You Know Time" and "Everybody Needs Love", a brilliant opening salvo that took a full week's listening to get past so good are they. "If you Know Time" is particularly beautiful, possibly the finest, most intelligent anti-war song around. All the songs on Spooked are helped by the sparse, muted arrangements, there's no clutter and consequently the songs are able to stand up and be counted.
There's a breadth and poise to this album that has been missing recently; someone's opened a window, letting some air in. Spooked certainly allows your own thoughts to wander in a way that his 1980s albums did - even on the more whimsical, up tempo tracks such as the lovely "We're Gonna Live in the Trees" there is none of the forced jollity that irked me so whilst listening to stuff like Respect; rather, there's a sharper focus at work here. Its as if we the listeners have, (after some fifteen years of scrambling over the forbidding perimeter wall), at last found the key to that magical, almost Edwardian Secret Garden that Hitchcock is the curator of.
All of this eulogising must I suppose lead to an ultimatum of sorts. I know critics are wont to do this, even part-time factory workers such as me. Okay, don't for one moment think that I'm trying to direct your muse here, but Mr Hitchcock; please can we have some more stuff like this?
Words: Richard Foster