Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Robyn Hitchcock - I Often Dream Of Trains

Robyn Hitchcock
I Often Dream Of Trains

Released 1984 on Midnight Music
Reviewed by venus willendorf, 21/12/2004ce


1.Nocturne (Prelude)
2.Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl
4.Uncorrected Personality Traits
5.Sounds Great When You’re Dead
6.Flavour Of Night
7.Ye Sleeping Nights Of Jesus
8.Mellow Together
9.Winter Love
10.The Bones In The Ground
11.My Favourite Buildings
12.I Used To Say I Love You
13.This Could Be The Day
14.Trams Of Old London
15.Furry Green Atom Bowl
16.Heartful Of Leaves
17.Autumn Is Your Last Chance
18.I Often Dream Of Trains
19.Nocturne (Demise)

This is possibly Robyn Hitchcock's masterpiece, and I consider it extremely bad play that it's taken till now for Mr. Hitchcock to be included within these album reviews. So, I say to you, fellow musical travellers, get yourself a one way ticket, close the carriage door and make choo choo.

Now read on...

If you are unfamiliar with the great man’s work, then I think it would be fair to say that Robyn Hitchcock owes allegiance to that erratic and mercurial tradition of English songsters that might include: Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayres, Robert Wyatt and Julius Copius. These fine men all have one thing in common, which is they have forever forged a pastoral and tranquil sun dappled pathway, away from the tawdry, conceited and inexorable grey motorways of MUSIC BIZ. Down these cosy pathways one is free to dream and consider how much nicer it is to live in your own world.

Do you often dream of trains? I know I do.

The album kicks off - or rather slides mournfully in - with a melancholy piano instrumental. Coming across as Erik Satie playing a lonely lounge lizard role, it's a brooding opener inculcating a melancholy vibe. Think pensive bucolic English winter evenings. One is tempted to say this mood is the mainstay of the record, but actually this is a little disingenuous, because the album is capricious in terms of tone and atmosphere (a dilemma common to so much of R. Hitchcock’s oeuvre me thinks). In fact I'd say the album has four essences or moods:
1. Reflective and Melancholy (Nocturnes, Cathedral, Winter Love, Autumn Is Your Last Chance, Heartfull Of Leaves, I Often Dream Of Trains)
2. Slightly Disturbed (Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl, Sounds Great When You're Dead, This Could Be The Day, Uncorrected Personality Traits)
3. Stoned and Stupid (Mellow Together, The Bones In The Ground, Furry Green Atom Bowl, Ye Sleeping Knights Of Jesus)
4. Nostalgic and Lovelorn (I Used To Say I Loved You, Trams Of Old London, Flavour of Night, My Favourite Buildings)

There might even be one or two more I could make up, but I think that will suffice. The above might indicate that the album is a tad schizophrenic, and indeed it is. I did used to find the silliness of the Stoned and Stupid genre slightly annoying, but strangely time has mellowed me to such excess, and I do now find myself singing the words of Mellow Together (which Hitchcock sings in an affected gormless monotone) lasciviously into the ears of my girlfriend after I’ve had a drop too much. Which she just loves (though I wouldn’t recommend this activity to everyone).

Sonically the album revolves around Hitchcock’s acoustic guitar (there is only the occasional accompaniment of piano, sax, bass and backing vocals), leaving a sound that is stripped down and minimal. In fact the sonic purity of the album is – apart form the extraordinary song writing – its main asset. Thus a highlight is Winter Love’s simple cyclical acoustic arpeggio over which Hitchcock evokes a ghostly nocturnal otherworldliness. The drama of I Used To Say I Love You (matchless paean to a vanishing lover) plays against a hushed staccato of dampened strings, leaving you astonished that so much atmosphere and emotion can be conveyed with just a voice and guitar.

There’s only one album of Hitchcock’s that I think comes close to achieving the highs of this one (though maybe this is controversial in esoteric Hitchcock circles) and that’s the collection of odds and sods called Invisible Hitchcock, which sadly doesn’t appear to be available anymore. So for the uninitiated, commence here.

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