Review Summary: Hitchcock proves his worth as music’s most enduring maniac.
The thing about Propellor Time
is that its slow unravel doesn’t reveal a psychopath as previous Robyn Hitchcock albums did, especially in his heyday 80s. Those were loveable albums sure, but ever so frightening too, and such an eerie personality was especially diagnosed in Hitchcock with I Often Dream of Trains
, his sparse classic. This album – a personal first impression - cast on me thoughts of Hitchcock prowling about an abandoned log cabin, and not in the romantic, likes-to-go-for-walks way. The whole affair sounded like a crazy man slowly going crazier and in a world of delicate, heart-on-sleeve songwriters, the stuff of ghost stories is far from an ordinary tale. “Sounds Great When You’re Dead”, anyone?
The move away from his house of horror starts at basics – this isn’t an album by Robyn Hitchcock for one, it’s an album by Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, which is stated – in mathematics, as it should be – as “3/4s of The Minus 5 and half of R.E.M”. Ultimately Peter Buck and co have little lasting contribution other than comprising the band behind Hitchcock, and in this sense they sum Propellor Time
and the other records they appear on best: Hitchcock isn’t a singer-songwriter anymore. This isn’t folk anymore, either: The Venus 3 are most definitely a rock band from the off, and that off is “Star of Venus”, a track crafted with excellent soft rock discipline - Buck’s sublime guitar work sits right with country twang and easy-going melody, and Hitchcock’s vocals are as delicate as they ever have been. For once they can be backed without some sense of sarcasm or sleaze undermining them, as was evident on last year’s Goodnight Oslo
. The album’s continuity is perfect in its (lack of) rock theme, with the band invoking excellent age-old clichés and thinking nothing of them. We have psych rock: “The Afterlight” dangles over the edge of psychadelia but never quite falls on it (Hitchcock veers vocally towards his former kookiness but doesn’t dare give up the warmth of his performance). We have folk rock: Hitchcock’s wealth of experience is shared on the album’s very own title-track with the band complementing his acoustic fumbling with only that which is acoustic in essence – quaint drum snarls and tiny, restrained riffing. And most especially we have rock rock, best shown in how “Sickie Boy” has the band counted in and fully collaborated from the go, and from therein they jump from verse to chorus together as happy as can-be. This is Hitchcock’s band
at its most realised, each member pleased with their place on Propellor Time
and better pleased with the place of others. The result? An album that lives on positive energy and gives it back, and a Hitchcock who proves his worth as music’s most enduring maniac simply because he’s stopped and smiled.
is best accounted for when we focus in on its construction. It is seamless in the way any soft rock record should aspire to be and its simply a testament to its success when one can listen to “Ordinary Millionaire” for two minutes and notice nothing but Hitchcock’s voice as it steps boastfully away from the delicate music below it, every single instrument unspoken and afraid to move out of turn – nothing detracts from the song here, but without the guitars, the drums and the sax, where exactly would we be? Such sums up the album that is all about Hitchcock but never really about him. Similarly, Hitchcock remains somehow masterful of pop and at the same time ignorant of any quiet-loud dynamic ever invented. No track on Propellor Time
moves beyond a set-in-stone hush, and neither does Hitchcock burst into epiphany on tracks with the potential for him to, such as the meandering “Propellor Time” or the grand finale in “Evolove” – instead, everything hovers in an in-between of barebones folk and rock ‘n’ roll, and that in-between is quite something. Folk pop they call it, but I’m not so sure Hitchcock does.
For once I feel I could get lost in a Hitchcock landscape and that is because Propellor Time
actually invites me. If I could just fight my Hitchcockphobia.