Robyn Hitchcock, I Often Dream of Trains

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Hitchcock’s flair for cockeyed melody goes mobile.

A bold about-face from the bright Beatle-esque jangle he'd plied just four years earlier with the Soft Boys, I Often Dream of Trains finds a wounded and subdued Roby Hitchcock attempting to make sense of himself. Because Hitchcock is a master surrealist, even his sense doesn't make much sense: "Sounds Great When You're Dead" is clearly a sneering insult — but to whom and over what remains just out of reach; "This Could Be the Day" ought to be a victory anthem, until halfway through we're confronted with Nubian slaves and hissing tongues of fire; and the title track is an aching, moving cipher, either a meditation on mortality or an observation of slow-moving public transit. What remains uniform throughout is Hitchcock's flair for cockeyed melody. Wistful acoustic phrases go suddenly pear-shaped, resolving from major seventh to minor catastrophe. It's Dadaism unplugged, a hushed, moody work of strange visions and wild inventions. It's quiet splendor has only grown more singular and more stubborn with age.