Eponymous albums usually herald a debut or a stylistic sea change. Robyn Hitchcock's 22nd studio LP is neither, but it embraces elements of both. Recorded in Nashville with pop sorcerer Brendan Benson, it's a distillation of the 64-year-old surrealist's entire career, and easily his most vibrant collection of new music since the early 1990s -- his last outing, 2014's Man Upstairs, saw Hitchcock delivering an enjoyable, yet relatively amorphous set of half-covers/half-originals under the tutelage of the great Joe Boyd. The obvious reference points here are Underwater Moonlight-era Soft Boys and early solo outings like Element of Light and Black Snake Diamond Role, but there are more than a few tips of the hat to his time on A&M in the late '80s -- lead single "I Want to Tell You About What I Want" wouldn't have sounded out of place on Globe of Frogs or Queen Elvis. Always an underrated and inventive guitar player, Benson gives Hitchcock plenty of room to flex his six-string muscles, and he digs into psych rock/jangle pop confections like "Virginia Woolf," "Detective Mindhorn," "Time Coast," and "Mad Shelley's Letterbox" with the fleet-fingered, double-tracked glee of a man who just rediscovered Revolver. Hitchcock's adopted hometown of Nashville looms large on the Grant-Lee Phillips-assisted, pseudo-honky tonk number "I Pray When I'm Drunk," and Russ Pahl's weepy pedal steel paints golden sunsets over the lovely "Sayonara Judge" and the equally breezy "1970 in Aspic," but as Hitchcock states in his typically verbose liner notes, his songs are "English myths, seen from abroad." Nowhere is that more apparent than on "Raymond of the Wires," a eulogy for his novelist, screenwriter, and cartoonist father, and an elliptical, psych-pop mini-masterpiece that skillfully wields both nostalgia and wonder. No longer the hyper-prolific, Byzantine food-, sex-, and death-obsessed Syd Barrett-phile of old -- well, maybe just a little bit -- Hitchcock has settled into a sort of seasoned eccentricity, and this economical, late career gem proves that he's still got plenty of Madcap Laughs left in the hopper.
Robyn Hitchcock Review
by James Christopher Monger