ROBYN HITCHCOCK & THE VENUS 3 Goodnight Oslo (Yep Roc)

It is my firm belief that by and large, solo singer-songwriters do their best work when backed by a semi-permanent band. Good examples include Bob Dylan (& The Band), Neil Young (& Crazy Horse), Bruce Springsteen (& the E Street Band) and Elvis Costello (& the Attractions).

In my opinion, Robyn Hitchcock hit his creative peak when allied with the Egyptians in the late 80s to early 90s and since breaking the band up, has not quite hit those highs.Which is why I was intrigued when Hitchcock teamed up with Peter (REM) Buck, Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5) and Bill Reiflin (Ministry) – the Venus 3 – and the resulting album, Ole Tarantula, certainly recalled Hitchcock’s heady days.

Obviously, Hitchcock himself has agreed with this assessment and if anything, Goodnight Oslo – the sophomore release of this exciting aggregation – has confirmed that Hitchcock is in a rich vein of form. Drawing from the deep well of the finest classic rock influences viz. Dylan, Lennon, Barrett, Reed and McGuinn, Goodnight Oslo is a studied examination of the psychedelic-folk-rock-blues that Hitchcock has been parlaying into thought-provoking, edgy music since his time with the Soft Boys in the late 70s.

Goodnight Oslo is simply one of the year’s best albums so far, with songs that are familiar and yet alien, possessing Hitchcock’s trademark whimsy and wit and the kind of memorable tunes that will stick with you. Hitchcock and Buck deliver the expected 12-string Rickenbacker appregios and McCaughey/Reiflin provide the strident backbeat but Hitchcock embellishes the arrangements with girl singers, horns and strings.

I won’t bother naming highlights because this is one of those albums you listen to from start to finish – like the good old days. Suffice to say that the lively Saturday Groover, the psych-rocking Your Head Here, the rockabilly Hurry for the Sky, the bopping Up to Our Nex and the Beatlesque title track are clear cut winners.

Conceptally, as Hitchcock explains in the video below, Goodnight Oslo is about getting older and having to say goodbye to (too) many things you once took for granted. All too familiar territory for yours truly. But whatever age you may be, Goodnight Oslo is an essential album for 2009…

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