Robyn Hitchcock, Chronology (The Very Best of Robyn Hitchcock)

Karen Schoemer

By Karen Schoemer

on 10.25.11 in Reviews
A 29-year retrospective that eschews the outer limits of his bizarre imagination

It must please Robyn Hitchcock, now that he’s at or even (gulp) past the midway point of his career, to look back and realize that nearly all of his biggest “hits” are about love. There’s “My Wife and My Dead Wife,” a 1985 ditty about a ménage a trois in multiple spiritual dimensions: “I can’t decide which one I love the most/ The flesh and blood or the pale smiling ghost”; “Madonna of the Wasps,” a 1989 ballad about an object of desire who’s an insect from the waist down; and “Queen Elvis” and “Adventure Rocketship,” from 1989 and 2006, two very different ruminations on the flexibility of male and female sexuality. This digital-only 29-year retrospective, spanning the Soft Boys’ buzzy new-wave psychedelia through the more rueful folk-rock of his recent solo albums, doesn’t feel the least bit truncated or cheap. Magnificently curated by Hitchcock himself, it eschews the outer limits of his bizarre imagination in favor of songs that turn that most conventional of pop topics inside-out. Hitchcock has never exactly been an innovator — from the early-Beatles Rickenbacker chime of “Madonna of the Wasps” through the tweaked ’70s Memphis strut of “Full Moon in My Soul,” he proves himself time and again as one of indie’s most fetishistic plunderers of the past. But not one of these tracks falls down on the job of finding an utterly original path into humanity’s oldest obsession. “Is this love?” chants Hitchcock in his droll baritone at the opening of “Madonna of the Wasps.” Chronology finds 16 luminous, unforgettable ways to answer yes.