The Man Upstairs is a half-original, half-cover album by grand surrealist and former Soft Boys leader Robyn Hitchcock. What makes it intriguing is Hitchcock’s snagging of esteemed producer Joe Boyd — whose notable past credits include Pink Floyd’s early single “Arnold Layne,” such cult classic albums as Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter, Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day, and Nico’s Desertshore, as well as a plethora of Fairport Convention, Richard and Linda Thompson, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and Incredible String Band albums, all of which puts Robyn in good company. Hitchcock is also ably aided and abetted by Anne Lise Frøkedal (from the Norwegian duo I Was a King) on limpid harmonies and guitar, Charlie Francis on piano, and Jenny Adejayan on cello. The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” is sublimely rendered by Hitchcock, invoking the bittersweet memories associated with lost love. Also scattered throughout the album are covers of Roxy Music’s “To Turn You On,” Grant-Lee Phillips’s “Don’t Look Down,” I Was a King’s “Ferries,” and a slightly off-kilter yet surprisingly resonant version of The Door’s “The Crystal Ship.” From the originals, “Trouble In Your Blood” stands above the rest as a gorgeous song — both in terms of lyrics and melody — that recalls Desire-era Dylan. By contrast, “San Francisco Patrol” is wistful, while “Somebody to Break Your Heart” is Hitchcock’s adrenal kick-in-the-balls moment, and the maudlin “Comme Toujours” slightly grates. Final cut “Recalling the Truth” is a downbeat corker on the subject of romance gone awry, as the singer opines, “The truth can just change like the tide on the sea.” In choosing Boyd, Hitchcock seems to have tamped down his more manic tendencies in favor of leaving us with at least the illusion of a classic indie-folk album. All this and a Día de Muertos-esque Gillian Welch–painted album cover to boot!
The Man Upstairs
Monday, February 9, 2015
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