Although he's gussied them up in images of frogs, fish, food and whatnot, Robyn Hitchcock's obsessions have always been basic and Freudian: sex and death. Perhaps because his British tenor inflects the word with goose-bump yearnings, the ex-Soft Boy can sing a thousand paeans to love and never seem melodramatic. His albums have always countered the New Wave ditties he's known for with searing ballads and laments. Last year's "So You Think You're in Love" was the single he should have released long ago.
"Arms of Love" is Respect's requisite achy-breaky tune; it's a gossamer lullaby as dear as anything Bacharach and David ever wrote. On "The Wreck of the Arthur Lee," Hitchcock urges us to "believe in Love," but he's referring to the band, not the emotion: He may frequently bury his feelings in metaphors, but he's always worn his influences (Lennon, Dylan, Beefheart) on his sleeve.
In general, though, Respect is most concerned with mortality. Undoubtedly, that's because Hitchcock's father died last year he acknowledges as much on "Railway Shoes," singing, "The ghost of your father/Is right by your side." The spirit haunts him on tracks ranging from the irritatingly quirky "Yip Song" through "Railway Shoes," "When I Was Dead" and the contemplative "Then You're Dust."
Hitchcock and his faithful Egyptians recorded Respect at his home on the Isle of Wight with John Leckie producing. They laid down the basic tracks with acoustic instruments, then spruced them up with synthesizers and strings, producing a disc that's more atmospheric, less rocking than previous outings. The album's brevity ten songs and the inclusion of the insufferable Barry White parody "Wafflehead" indicate that Hitchcock's creative spring may finally be trickling dry.
But the spareness does suit Respect's somber theme and makes the pop songs aimed at college-radio geeks less bothersome. Not content to be a coffeehouse troubadour, Hitchcock still feels the need to follow every serious thought with a quip. But he's learning not to let his endless cleverness get in the way of his muse. (RS 654)
(Posted: Apr 15, 1993)
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