CD Review of Goodnight Oslo by Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3
Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3: Goodnight Oslo
Recommended if you like
The Soft Boys, XTC,
The Decemberists
Label
Yep Roc
Robyn Hitchcock &
The Venus 3:
Goodnight Oslo

Reviewed by Will Harris

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W
hether you’ve followed the career of Robyn Hitchcock since the release of his first solo album (1981’s Black Snake Diamond Role) or you’ve played catch-up via Yep Roc’s recent reissues of his early back catalog, if you’re paying any attention at all, then you know the man is one of the more prolific songwriters in the music business. This makes for one of those classic good news / bad news situations, however. The good news is that he’s always got a treasure trove of extra material at hand to contribute to re-releases; the bad news is that, by current record label standards, he writes songs too fast for them to be interested in putting all of them out.

Remember last year’s fly-on-the-wall documentary about Hitchcock ("Sex, Food, Death…and Insects")? He and his current band – the Venus 3, which features Peter Buck on guitar, Scott McCaughey on bass, and Bill Rieflin on drums – showed off several fantastic new songs, but when Bullz-Eye interviewed Hitchcock and asked when we could expect to find the material released on CD, he responded, "I think both Peter and I would rather record new material than sit around polishing older gems or stones or pieces of music. I think pieces of it will come out, but I don't think there are any plans for that record, as such, to come out."

Robyn Hitchcock

While you’re tempted to be grumpy at Hitchcock for letting some of those great tracks vanish into the vault ‘til the inevitable deluxe edition of his latest Yep Roc album, Goodnight Oslo, the fact of the matter is that the songs that did make the cut prove very, very difficult to complain about.

Hitchcock’s comfort level with Buck is clearly right up there with the former members of the Soft Boys; put the two of them in a room together, and you’re almost always going to score a new inclusion for a future Hitchcock greatest-hits collection. Now that we’re two-plus albums into the Venus 3’s existence, it’s clear that the same goes for Hitchcock’s relationship with McCaughey and Rieflin as well. The stylistic diversity of the group’s material very much gives off an anything-goes vibe, from the horn-laden bubble-glam of "Saturday Groovers" to the alt-country of "Hurry for the Sky. "TLC" seems to take equal sonic inspiration from both "Earth Angel" and Santo & Johnny’s "Sleep Walk," with its lyrics taken straight from the Great Book of Antidepressants. (The title is an acronym which stands for Triptisol, Librium, and Carbritol.)

It would also seem that exploring his back catalog for those Yep Roc reissues has had the expected effect of finding him revisiting the sounds of his past. "Your Head Here" sounds like a cut from the Element of Light era, as does the title track, particularly with the wonderful harmonies in its chorus. Speaking of harmonies, the inclusion of female backing vocals on a couple of the songs, including opening track "What You Is," makes for a nice touch to the proceedings.

With some artists, you can only hope and pray that they’ll be able to grow old gracefully. Robyn Hitchcock, however, has been releasing albums under his own name for almost three decades now, and not only does he sound as though he hasn’t aged a day, but he’s putting out material that ranks amongst his best work. In short, he’s putting his peers to shame...and God love him for that.

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