Anyone familiar with Robyn Hitchcock’s ear-catchingly eccentric pop has probably wondered if he’s an inhabitant of—or at least a frequent visitor to—a parallel universe, one populated by anthropomorphic Space Needles, balloon men and the occasional Uzbek warrior. On his latest album, Goodnight Oslo, he furthers the question, as he now appears to be aging backward à la Benjamin Button.
Goodnight Oslo is populated by jangling guitars, harmonies and horns, and colored by a mostly wide-eyed worldview—albeit the eye-rubbing variety experienced coming into the bright light of day after a long period in the dark. Backed again by The Venus 3 (R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin), Hitchcock sounds more youthful, hopeful and sprightly than ever.
“What You Is” and “Your Head Here” swing groovily, while the sing-along “Saturday Groovers” rates with the best of Hitchcock’s off-kilter pop masterpieces.
“I’m Falling,” “Up to Our Nex” and “Intricate Thing” explore romance in a way only Hitchcock could, while the moody “16 Years” serves as a reminder that the dark is never that much fun. The slightly creepy, claustrophobic comedown title song closes the album on the perfect note, underscoring Hitchcock’s unique gift for combining the real and surreal.
The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy and Harvey Danger’s Sean Nelson provide backing vocals, but while the album is jam-packed with these and other talented collaborators, the spotlight, thankfully, remains fully on Hitchcock.