Robyn Hitchcock, Britain's crown prince of eccentric songwriters, steps away from the jangly alternative rock of his recent work into darker, more psychedelic territory.
After three records with the Venus Three (R.E.M.'s Peter Buck on guitar, the Minus Five's Scott McCaughey on bass and Ministry's Bill Rieflin on drums), the 60-year-old Hitchcock turned to producer/engineer Paul Noble to guide his new album. The resulting transformation adds dabs of funk, hip-hop, electronica and synthy industrial rock into the mix.
Love From London starts with the beguiling one-two punch of "Harry's Song" and "Be Still," the record's darkest and lightest songs set side by side. The shock in moving from the moody, ominously pounding piano chords to breezy acoustic guitar and cello plays right into Hitchcock's hand.
From there, the kaleidoscope of sound keeps turning: the drug tale "Stupefied" bounces with some hip-hop flair; "Strawberries Dress" hearkens back to Hitchcock's Soft Boys era; "Death & Love" is an electro-folk hybrid; "Fix You" blasts off into spaceman-Bowie territory; the darkly sensual "My Rain" sounds like late-career Leonard Cohen.
At times on Love From London, it seems that Hitchcock puts the emphasis on sound rather than songwriting, a tough pill to swallow for those who appreciate him for lyrical wit and insight above all else. But in refocusing his creativity, Hitchcock gives a reminder that it takes more than lyrics to remain a relevant and evolving musical entity for four decades.