Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip
yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip
yip yip yip yip yip yip. (That's 44 "yips" in all.)
What's "that," you say? Why, the opening of a Robyn Hitchcock
song about the death of his father; what else? This is, after all, an
artist who considers "something'' to be not only a verb but an active
To tried-and-true Hitchcock fans, such pointed chicanery
comes as no surprise. Ever since his emergence as the leader of the
avant-pop outfit the Soft Boys in the late '70s, Hitchcock has been
showered with the kind of praise that comes with cult superstardom:
He's been called England's most literate rocker, music's last surviving
surrealist and the world's only psychedelic-pop-folk maestro.
However, even those aficionados who have every Soft Boys
album, every Egyptians B-side and every K-Record 7-inch are only getting
half the fun if they've never seen Hitchcock in concert. In
addition to writing songs about sexually ambiguous teen-age nightmares and
living-dead ex-wives, Hitchcock is an artist who finds that it makes exquisite
sense to connect the above-mentioned tales about life ("The Yip Song'') and
love ("I Something You'') with an extended narrative describing the
existential nightmare and inevitable psychological terror experienced by
some poor chap wrapped in duct tape who, due to a "problem with physics,''
finds himself suspended 8 feet above London -- where, naturally, everyone
thinks he is an about-to-be-detonated bomb.
Until recently, suburban home-dwellers had to be satisfied solely with
the impossible-to-pigeonhole musical side of Hitchcock, missing out on the
deranged, iconoclastic, free-associative monologues that pepper Hitchcock's
live shows. But that's all changed with the release of Storefront
Hitchcock, the soundtrack to the Jonathan Demme movie of the same name.
"Storefront Hitchcock'' was filmed, and recorded, over three days in a
Manhattan, N.Y., storefront in December 1996. And the movie, by all
delightful: Hitchcock, accompanied by violinist Deni Bonet (and guitarist
Tim Keegan on a couple of tunes) sets up shop on 14th Street in front of 200
or so fans and does his thing. (Demme, who also directed the film version of
Spalding Gray's "Swimming to Cambodia," seems like a perfect choice to
choreograph such an outing.)
More important (to us, at least), the resulting disc is one of those
rarest of albums that can genuinely be called a true masterpiece, a
delightful trip through Hitchcock's stubbornly individualistic
Hitchcock has always been a more complex artist than he is given credit
for. Many listeners still associate Hitchcock primarily with the
ground-breaking, power-pop work he did with the Egyptians in the '80s. And
"The Man With the Lightbulb Head'' is a great song, Hitchcock has many
sides: the gentle troubadour, the dour cynic, the ebullient trickster.
All those sides are amply evident on Storefront Hitchcock.
Fegmania!'s "I'm Only You'' becomes achingly wistful as Hitchcock
slows it down and picks every note with deliberate forcefulness, while
"Where Do You Go When You Die?'' (written for the movie) is downright
menacing: Hitchcock's ominous, disjointed harmonica and his lowered,
singing are almost creepy, and not in a transgendered kind of way, either.
Throw in a moving cover of Hendrix's "Wind Cries Mary'' and a
seven-minute version of Hitchcock's classic "Beautiful Queen'' and you have
the makings for a wonderfully eccentric singer/songwriter disc. While
Hitchcock's lyrics are impossible to label, musically Storefront
Hitchcock is a
delicate, multi-layered effort, marked by Hitchcock's crystalline voice, his
deceptively simple guitar lines and Bonet's wonderful violin shadings.
But the music is only half the story here, and to fully appreciate
Hitchcock's intoxicating attitude you also need his verbal wanderings,
whether he's discussing the importance of the human skeleton ("If it
weren't for our rib cages it would just be spleens a go-go'') or the perfect
living-room accessory ("A chair unable to cause you any pain whatsoever.
It's designed not to upset you in the least: it's not even bland. You
couldn't say, 'This is annoyingly comfortable' '').
The dozen songs on Storefront Hitchcock (including four new
tunes) offer a wonderful snapshot of Hitchcock and his favorite themes:
life, death, love and rotting fruit. The accompanying introductions (which,
incidentally, have nothing at all to do with the songs they precede) deal
with organized religion, glowing tomatoes and the importance of muzak.
Throw it all together and you get Martha. I think Hitchcock describes
her best: "Martha is a whole mass of molecules and complexes and things
bound together by terrifying physical improbabilities and the truth is she
could fly apart at any moment ... ''