Friday, April 3, 2009

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3: Goodnight Oslo

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3

Goodnight Oslo
Yep Roc Records

Robyn Hitchcock is a walking contradiction. He's a channel of psychedelic weirdness with bits of Erickson, Barrett, and even Lennon, but his music always seemed to rock a little harder and go to more places. Lyrically, one might call him an evolutionary mystic with his songs about everything from bees to prawns as allusions to the human condition, but other songs of his are blatantly forward like "Uncorrected Personality Traits." In over 20 albums, Robyn is the King of Weird while simultaneously emotionally stable. That of itself is a rock 'n' roll contradiction. On his third release with friends The Venus 3, the slight CCR feel of the opening "What You Is" is a little shocking for such a grammatically correct guy. He gives us the moral with "It doesn't matter what you is, it's what you are." And if you miss the bees, "Is Your Head Here?" offers a few along with tentacles and various surprises. Singing "Bop bop" hasn't been heard in a while, but the slightly distorted "Saturday Groover" is a result of Beach Boys harmonies and "Day Tripper". With added guitar distortion and horns, let's just say it grooves in many ways.

"I'm Falling" takes on territory familiar to Robyn Hitchcock fans in its emotional tone in losing one's self when falling in love and all the the doubt and difference that lies within, but has an almost gospel fervor in both the chorus "Take it away" and the vocal refrains. Goodnight Oslo flirts with country and slide guitar on "Hurry For The Sky" with success that sounds vintage. "Sixteen Years" follows up backstepping in sound with a harmonica as well as "Sixteen years and all I got was high", but also is a slight departure to his Dylan influences and earlier since it's a sad, bluesy track. Simultaneously, Peter Buck's jangling guitar is conspicuous throught to add some welcome complexity. This mood become uplifted with "Up To Our Nex", which is bright with horns and strings. Musically, there are a lot of sounds that one tries to pick out that somehow combine in a great harmony such as banjos and various strings, but builds into a heavier rock song with guitar and Bill Rieflin's sharp drumming. In some way, maybe Robyn's long exile as a folky, wise troubadour resulted in putting a lot more instrumentation on his recordings.

If one's familiar with Gertrude Stein's statement "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle", "Intricate Thing" brings up those contradictions pretty well. Instead of love needed, it's an "intricate thing" with "all kinds of needs that you don't know you're needing" to "little drops of blood that you don't know you're bleeding." The opening sounds a little shallow, but it really delves in to everything behind an intimate relationship that and results in one of the most truthful and obvious songs about love without being a love song. The ending title track is simply a thing to behold. I never thought I'd talk about cellos and rock 'n' roll at the same time, but it's use on "Goodnight Oslo" is an effective draw that pulls one into the song from the very beginning. Additionally, one can't help but appreciate "I've got special powers that render me invisible to everyone buy you." Despite the deeper, moody feel of this track, the cello duplicates the human voice so much that it's naturally good to hear, but the string arrangements meld themselves in high volume with even louder guitars that communicate well the last statement "They're waiting for the dark that never comes."

Instead of walking the familiar tightrope that many of his influences have between genius and insanity, Robyn Hitchcock occupies a more solid space of the odd lyricist with more to say than most of us could fill in our heads that's either flecked with animal and psychedelic overtones or blunt directness. He once summed it up in saying that like everyone else, he wonders about the human condition and is just as afraid of the outcome as the rest of us. As a result, his version of pop both musically and lyrically embody the human condition in all its foils and triumphs. Likewise, the human condition cannot be simplified. As a result, Robyn Hitchock's music isn't, either. It's great to hear him once again with a band that somehow fits his vision. Peter Buck, Bill Rieflin, and Scott McGaughey as The Venus 3 are all stellar performers that envelope Robyn's ideas and visions in a way that compliments but never stays in the back. It's great to hear him with a great band again.

Tour Dates:

FR 04.03.09 - Austin, TX
SA 04.04.09 - Dallas, TX
MO 04.06.09 - Nashville, TN
TU 04.07.09 - Atlanta, GA
WE 04.08.09 - Carrboro, NC
TH 04.09.09 - Washington, DC
FR 04.10.09 - Philadelphia, PA

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