Review Summary: The cathedral of the mind.
There are only a few seconds of human sentimentality on I Often Dream of Trains
; Hithcock’s smooth crooning Cause my heart/doesn’t break/anymore/cause my heart/ just couldn’t take/anymore
on “I Used To Say I Love You” is this moment being so heart-warmingly open. Immediately, it self-destructs, Hitchcock snarls I used to say I love you/I said it as a threat
in his recurring pervert voice, and kicks back into his sinister persona.
Indeed, Hitchcock isn’t the most comforting musical companion, but it makes him all the more fun: his folk singer-songwriter styling is something of a rare sight within its own confined area. Want emotion? Sure, just don’t expect the gentle spectrum of Bob Dylan, Conor Obest, et al. The range of feelings throughout I Often Dream of Trains
is phenomenal, but only in the cruellest and coldest of fashions that still count as entertainment. “Sounds Great When Your Dead”, probably the album’s most well known number, alludes to Hitchcock as borderline psychotic while being provided with a contagious riff that forgives all. “The Bones In The Ground” is another morbid folk sing-along that barely needs an explanation but still beggars belief. Even straight from the albums first real song in “Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl”, Hitchcock is strumming out the backdrop to his own creepiness.
The strumming is the only real continuous pattern to I Often Dream of Trains
(aside from the whimsy vocal-driven bouts “Uncorrected Personality Traits” and “Furry Green Atom Bowl”), with every track backed by simply an acoustic guitar and the occasional piano chorus. Apart from this, Hithcock’s third release only teases itself with its minor theme of a blurry Britain. It’s there when Hitchcock strips away his sardonic humour and just murmurs out metaphors about the country he comes across as yearning. He riddles off geographical context and tempts a somewhat impersonal love of railways in “Trams of Old London”, and continues the mini-saga by spacing out the same idea in title track “I Often Dream of Trains” – I often dream of trains when I’m alone/they ride along the side of frozen lakes/and there in the buffet car I wait for eternity/or Basingstoke, or Reading
a showcase of the lyrical bliss that typically encompasses Hitchcock’s work.
I Often Dream of Trains
is often classified with a merry ‘folk pop’ tag, and yet this is at points so impossible to accept. The album is stripped down to its definite limits musically and melodically, and yet Robyn Hitchcock seems to poetically antagonise and rebut the listener's ease at any chance he gets. It doesn’t really matter though, because for all his repeated cries of Sometimes I wish I was a pretty girl/so I could look at myself in the shower
you’ll feel all the more amused and sorry for his unravelling mind’s low hissing of Your mother is a journalist/your father is a creep
. And yes, it’s weirder than assumed at a distance, but if Hitchcock can handle his problems, so can you.