At 60, British absentminded professor Robyn Hitchcock—founder of psych-pop oddballs The Soft Boys and a prolific solo artist—remains one of the most acute observers of the human condition. But when he’s tackling topics such as mortality or romance (two popular fascinations over the years), his lyrics never pander to convention; in fact, Hitchcock’s ability to toss off imaginative extended metaphors and inventive non-sequiturs remains one of his most impressive skills.
His capacity to surprise is in full effect on Love From London. Although the album’s psychedelic moments are quintessential Hitchcock—the jagged electric-pop jams “Fix You” and “I Love You,” the cosmic oceanic coda of “End Of Time”—the record overall is quite subdued. (The major exception to this rule is the album’s rowdiest moment: “Devil On A String,” a Bowie-circa-Aladdin Sane glam-blues pastiche.) Strident acoustic guitar and subtle splashes of color, as well as shady cello from Jenny Adejayan, heartbeat-like keyboards, and sighing female harmonies, anchor pared-down arrangements, while piano is also prominent on mournful opener “Harry’s Song,” and in the desert-funk of “Stupefied.”
In spite of this tone, Hitchcock’s knack for absurdity is still in place. Yet Love From London’s lyrics are noticeably more straightforward. As usual, endings are a preoccupation (“End Of Time” is resigned to giving in, although “Be Still” revels in change and rebirth), and so is love (the forgiveness-seeking “Death And Love”). These lyrics are also more vulnerable, which makes the album affecting—especially on the sparse “Harry’s Song,” a song deeply troubled by uncertainty, and the ominous “My Rain.”
The common party line on Hitchcock is that he’s an eccentric. But as Love From London reinforces, he’s not relying on cleverness or humor as a crutch; even when he’s using elaborate imagery to explore a very simple feeling or situation, his sincerity never wavers.