Friday, May 15, 2009

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 -- Goodnight Oslo

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 -- Goodnight Oslo (Yep Roc)

The second Hitchcock outing with The Venus 3 proves that this ensemble (Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin) is turning into a suitable substitute for The Egyptians. This relaxed effort is on par with the second tier efforts of Robyn and the Egyptians. There are no revelations on the album, but this is an enjoyable collection of Robyn being Robyn, which he is still quite good at.

The album starts with a Hitchcockian spin on swamp rock, “What You Is”. I say that due to the bayou feel of the band, especially Robyn’s lead guitar fills. He lays his basic Dylan-meets-Barrett whimsy over this, colliding two types of ‘60s sounds into something vaguely spooky yet frivolous.

The album really gets good about midway through. “Hurry For the Sky” is a wonderful loping folky number. The gentle chorus is so soothing and cuts against the restless feel of the verses. This is followed by “Sixteen Years”, a song that would have fit as well on Queen Elvis as it does here. This song is all furtive glances and accusatory gestures, with a simple acoustic guitar part grounding the tune, and Hitchcock grafting a couple of melodies that add a late-‘60s Beatles vibe to the proceedings. Yet this really doesn’t sound like The Beatles at all.

This is followed by the ultra poppy “Up to Our Nex”. With a light Bo Diddley beat, some rustic instrumentation (banjos and mandolins) and some horns, Hitchcock taps into the place that produced such gems as “So You Think You’re in Love”. The playfulness continues on “Intricate Thing”, where Hitchcock gives a typically cockeyed look at “love between a woman and a man.” You see, “you’re not just bodies on the sofa” and the key question is “can you trust me?” You get the feeling that Robyn is gently trying to tell us all relationships are ultimately doomed.

The album ends on a high note with the title cut, a swirling, hypnotic number that ranks up there with the best tracks off of albums like Fegmania and Element Of Light. Yet again, the jangling guitars and the pulsing of the bass and drums creates tension which never seems to release, which makes the song all the more compelling.

Some are claiming that this is peak Hitchcock. I can’t go quite that far. But this is more quality stuff, and I understand why someone might feel that way.

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