Good old Robyn Hitchcock. All he had to do was hang around for long enough and his gentle blend of psychedelic pop-tinged countryish folk was bound to come into fashion eventually. He dovetails with the current vogue for Twisted Folk/UK Americana so well it’s ridiculous.
Purveying the sort of lo-fi, blue-eyed blues that’s so gentle you’ll believe he’d stop at a crossroads only to let a family of baby ducks cross, rather than to sell his soul to the devil, it’s taken him the best part of four years to develop Propellor Time, yet it still sounds as if it was recorded in the middle of a church hall with the contents of the local Oxfam shop’s vinyl box as backing tracks.
Opener Star Of Venus sounds like a suburban British version of The Byrds. The Afterlife steals its riff from the Velvet Underground and its lyrics from an issue of Woman’s Realm, while Ordinary Millionaire is unbearably fragile, reminiscent of a lost Suede b-side that Brett Anderson might have written had he grown up without anything bad ever happening to him in his entire life. This makes it by far the album’s best track, of course, but it’s a jewel amongst many.
John in The Air is far more trippy; looping glockenspiels (or maybe just saucepans) back languid vocals that drift away into the hazy dreamscape of the title track, co-written by Peter Buck of REM, who also contributes 12-string guitar.
Buck is not the only guest appearance: the album is studded with all-star names, from current rent-a-superstar John Paul Jones to Johnny Marr and former Soft Boys collaborator Nick Lowe. Their contribution reinforces Hitchcock’s iconic status as a darling of the music intelligentsia, beloved by musicians and musos alike, woefully under-rated by the public at large.
Perhaps some of his inability to penetrate the mainstream comes from his versatility, always playing around on the edge of genres and trends, never quite fitting in but never quite missing the boat. He’s always around, always offering something just to the side of the touchline, but exactly what is hard to quantify.
His vocals float above fragile melodies in just the way the lyrics of Primitive describe, comforting and safe in a world that really shouldn’t be. This is music to come home to, to guide you back through the darkness at the end of the evening and deliver you to the doorstep of a nice semi somewhere in Middle England. His wry self-awareness is the icing on the cake.