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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 221 - 09/09/14

Robyn Hitchcock
The Man Upstairs
Yep Roc Records

It's one and a half years since Love From London was released so it was about time for the follow up. Robyn teaming up with legendary American London-based producer, manager and club runner Joe Boyd seems like a perfect match. And it is. Joe is the man who produced early recordings by The Incredible String Band, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake and R.E.M. to name but a few, and thus incorporate some of Robyn's old favourites.

According to the Yep Roc home page Robyn explains the collaboration this way: 'This album started with Joe and me in a car, and therefore in a very confined space. Joe said, "What you want to do is make an album like Judy Collins did in 1967." I thought, wow, so that's what I want to do. He said the solution to a problem of which I was not aware was that I could make an album with half originals and half covers.'

And so they did. The new album includes ten songs, five cover versions and five self-penned. One might expect them to be separated on each side of the LP (of course this album is released on LP in addition to more modern devices). Instead they're mixed and the stream of songs flow effortlessly. The Man Upstairs is a sort of melancholic singer-songwriter or folk album. At first listen it seems to be sparsely arranged, mainly Robyn armed with his voice, acoustic guitar and maybe one more instrument. At closer listen it's more to it than that. I guess it is Jenny Adejayan's cello that graces several of the tracks as it did on Robyn's three previous albums. In addition Robyn plays quite a bit electric guitar, here's some lyrical piano playing and Anne Lise Frøkendal's nice backing vocals on some of the tracks, not least "Comme Toujours" with Robyn's broken French and all. Incidentally Miss Frøkendal's voice also pops up on one of the covers of the album, "Ferries", penned by herself and her companion Frode Strømstad in I Was A King, the duo that has often accompanied Robyn on his trips to Norway in later years. It's taken from their third album You Love It Here, from 2012, co-produced by none other than... Robyn Hitchcock! Robyn sings 'Still missing the pouring rain' as if it was pouring down outside the window, and adds to the melancholic vibe.

Grant-Lee Phillips' "Don't Look Down", from his solo debut in 2000, is the only cover here that has preserved the effect of the original, some delightful drowsy flying feel. Great, both of them! Otherwise the covers from the first half of 1980s, Roxy Music's "To Turn You On" and "The Ghost In You" by Psychedelic Furs sound fresh, young, energetic with very different qualities compared to the slick and synthetic production of the originals. "The Crystal Ship" from The Doors' self title debut album (1967) is somewhere in between. Very light and very beautiful. The same goes for Robyn's own love song "San Francisco Patrol" with that hushed-down haunting cello. The closing song "Recalling The Truth" follow suit, for afterthought. "Trouble In Your Blood" is the closest to a folk busking song, from the dark side of the street, apart from the melancholic cello, yet again. "Somebody To Break Your Heart" is the only song here that breaks the spell, bluesy with harmonica. On the other hand, it's the shortest song of the album and Robyn sings like an inspired John Lennon. It's easy to forgive that!

With The Man Upstairs at hand we're ready to meet the rainy autumn with confidence. One of Robyn's best, as always/comme toujours!

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You may also want to check out our Robyn Hitchcock articles/reviews: Black Snake Diamond Role, Love From London, Tromsø, Kaptein.

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