Robyn Hitchcock is surely capable of delivering the musical goods with nothing but his voice and an acoustic guitar – I Often Dream of Trains in large stretches features nothing but, and twenty-some years on it remains a brilliant, heartbreaking work of staggering, uh, insecurity, pain, and depression – but I’ve gotta admit, I like his work best in a band context. And so, after the semi-comeback of Spooked a year or so back (which featured Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in a relatively twang-free setting), his new CD Olé! Tarantula is, to my ears so far, a complete return to form. The band this time (co-billed in the title as The Venus 3) is Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, and Bill Rieflin (also the core of The Minus 5, and half of some obscure Athens, Georgia act), with notable appearances from former Soft Boys Kimberley Rew and Morris Windsor, Chris Ballew (ex-POTUSA), Sean Nelson (Harvey Danger) – plus a keyboard guest slot for Ian McLagan, and a co-write from Andy Partridge on “‘Cause It’s Love (Saint Parallelogram).”
The CD opens with “Adventure Rocket Ship” – not the very best song, but I’m posting it because it’s at the Yep Roc site, and I don’t want to post too many tracks in advance of the CD’s early October release. But it’s still a fine track – and it’s great to hear a bit more rock’n’roll energy behind Hitchcock. Other early highlights of the CD for me include the oddly compelling “Belltown Ramble” (with a tinkling, repetitive piano part that’s either annoying or brilliant), the long-time concert fave “(A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs,” which keeps reminding me of “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” and the approaching-psychedelia of “The Authority Box” (which contains the immortal line “Fuck me, I’m a trolley bus”…).
Here’s a curious version of the CD’s title track – which features journalist Pascal Wyse whipping out his mad trombone skilz. That’s actually appropriate – because even though the CD’s version lacks trombone, it does feature a similarly loose confederation of musical sounds, including harmonica, with a feel similar to “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” (Yes, it appears that Blonde on Blonde was in heavy rotation over at the Hitchcock compound. Naturally, the other two most audible influences are the Soft Boys and R.E.M.)
PS (longer than the S): Everyone should buy this album…if only to send a little royalty funds toward the unfortunate Andy Partridge, who in the last year or so has had to battle a hand injury and wonky equipment that nearly deafened him – the resulting tinnitus is expected to diminish. Partridge fans will also want to know that the final volumes of the Fuzzy Warbles series are coming out – as well as an enormous box set featuring all eight volumes. Partridge has done the right thing by fanatics like me who’ve already bought the first six volumes: the box set (minus the first six discs) is available at a considerably reduced price (you get a booklet and some swag) along with the two newly released volumes.
Now if only my beloved Wrens would act similarly: I love ’em, but…they’ve released The Meadowlands on LP…with four “new” bonus tracks. Three of them (“Splitter #7: Fireworks/James, I Wanna,” “Our Brightest New Year,” and “Such a Pretty Lie”) have been floating around in various forms and on various limited releases for several years (although it may be that “Lie” appears in a different mix from what was around before); the fourth (“Nervous and Not Me” – which has also been in the tube-o-sphere for a while now) has been spiffed up with “a new chorus chord progression [and] new guitars & bass.”
So, apparently crazed Wrens nuts like me are supposed to drop $20 (plus postage) for a vinyl version of a partly new track? Grrr… Okay, yes; I could gain whatever bragging rights ensue from owning a vinyl copy of one of the better albums from three years ago (“Hey ladies! Check it out – this is the kind of guy who owns music in an outmoded medium!”) – but geez guys, couldn’t you at least make the tracks available for purchase as a download or sumpin’?
And while they’re busy adding new tracks to old wine, wouldn’t adding a few extraneous seconds to existing songs on Secaucus and Silver constitute a means to make an end-run around the currently shoved-up-record-company-exec’s-posterior status of those titles’ rights? I mean, hey: new recording!