Robyn Hitchcock

Goodnight Oslo

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After making records for three decades, Robyn Hitchcock has largely lost the ability to surprise listeners, which isn't in itself a bad thing -- the consistent strength of his work had led the average fan to expect a handful of good to great songs and lively, compelling performances whenever Hitchcock releases a new album, and with very rare exceptions he hasn't let fans down yet, even if he doesn't deliver an Underwater Moonlight or I Often Dream of Trains or Element of Light each time he heads into the studio. Released in 2009, Goodnight Oslo isn't going to force listeners to reassess their opinions about Robyn Hitchcock at this stage of the game, but it's also an album that shows the man is still in firm command of his abilities, and in many respects it's as consistently pleasurable as anything Hitchcock has released since the mid-'90s. Like 2006's Olé! Tarantula, a large share of the credit for Goodnight Oslo's effectiveness is the contribution of Hitchcock's backing band, the Venus 3 -- Peter Buck on guitar, Scott McCaughey on bass, and Bill Rieflin on drums. While this is only the second studio album the three have made with Hitchcock, they've worked with one another long enough to have the feel and unspoken communication of a real band rather than a handful of sidemen, and along with being excellent musicians, they bring out the best in Hitchcock, filling out his melodies with taste and enthusiastic energy while helping him bring some different flavors to these sessions, like the Memphis-style R&B undertow of "What You Is," the acoustic country shuffle of "Hurry for the Sky," and the slinky, off-kilter romance of "TLC," along with Hitchcock's traditional angular guitar-centered pop. On Goodnight Oslo, Hitchcock has eased back a bit on the lysergic surrealism that was long his trademark, instead aiming for an air of sensuous menace that suits this music very well indeed, though "Intricate Thing" and "Saturday Groovers" show his eye for the offbeat is as sharp as ever. Goodnight Oslo is good enough and engaged enough that you can hardly believe Robyn Hitchcock has been making records like this since 1979 -- and who knows, maybe he can keep making albums this entertaining for another two or three decades.

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