Robyn Hitchcock may have just turned 60, but the former psyche-rocker – whose first taste of fame came with late-’70s outfit The Soft Boys, to whom Katrina And The Waves can trace their roots – is showing no signs of his advancing years with the release of his 19th studio album, Love From London. “Rock and roll is an old man’s game now,” he admits, “so I’m staying in it.”
But what is left to say after so many LPs (and so little mainstream recognition) over the years? In essence, Love From London often bears a course away from Hitchcock’s customary wit and wits, and instead proffers something altogether more politicized, taking aim at the media, economic woe, global warming and corporate responsibility – or lack thereof.
It’s an approach in which the singer-songwriter is able to turn his trademark style (“paintings you can listen to”) into a series of aural illustrations that illuminate his take on the wider world: brooding album opener Harry’s Song decries – among other things – the social disconnect engendered by technology; fuzz-laden Fix You rails against the origin and perpetuation of financial crises; End Of Time (“Take me! I’m ready for the end of time”) deals with the taboo of mortality with a vibrancy at odds with the subject, and Hitchcock’s voice, in fact, sounds as if he’s still 20-something.
An amalgam of topics, then, that are treated to his clever-if-obscure wordplay, his fine sense of pop principles and his quintessentially British sense of fair play – like Billy Bragg but with the folk element turned all the way down.
While Love From London is something of a steady Eddie, neither veering from style to style nor allowing the standard to drop, there are particular highlights to savour. Most prominently there is jangly lead single Be Still, in which a friend is implored to pause, take stock, “let the darkness fall upon you”. The song is built with John Lennon-esque simplicity, and excels as a result; its feather-light strum, mainstream major chords and tremolo strings giving the mix a timeless quality.
There’s also the rather more boisterous, gain-laden Devil On A String, which chugs along somewhere between Stephen Malkmus and Darwin Deez – two artists one can’t help suspect have been exposed to and perhaps influenced by Hitchcock somewhere down the line. Strawberries Dress then revives the tones of Robyn’s 1980s collaborators The Egyptians – complete with curious imagery – in a number so fresh and playful that you’d think it was its creator’s first effort, not his 500th.
Love From London is by no means an Earth-shaking or life-changing record, but its virtues are plentiful, and so well balanced that its title is by equal measures sarcastic and sincere: Hitchcock vents his spleen on more than one occasion, but always retains his composure and the wistfulness for which he is known. A fine entry in his canon, and an interesting record in and of itself.