I admit that I've never professed my love and longing for any of my electronic appliances. It's not that I don't love any of them; it's just that it never occurred to me to do so. And besides, I've been caught too many times talking to myself, and I always feel a little sheepish when questioned by my suspicious interlocutor; I can only imagine how I'd feel if I were ever caught talking to an appliance.
But after listening to "Television," the first track off Robyn Hitchcock's latest release, Spooked, I might just throw caution to the wind, walk into my kitchen, and spill my guts to the coffee-maker. Because "Television," in which Hitchcock reveals his tender feelings to his, well, television, is such a lovely and heartfelt song that it almost seems strange not to speak to those objects we find ourselves sharing more and more of our lives with. The song begins with a delicate guitar line before Hitchcock chimes in with "Bing-a bong-a bing bong" (well, how would you start a song about your television?). "Television, say you love me," Hitchcock continues, and the song unfolds with a subtle grace, charm and wit: "Television I'm so sorry/ If I turned you off back there/ I'm so small in your dimension/ My kid will look like you, I swear." Somehow, Hitchcock makes a love song to this hunk of plastic and wires seem more sincere than most of the love songs sung to humans.
Part of what makes this song, and the entire album, work well is the sympathetic
hands, ears, and voices of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (that's his signature
guitar sound at the beginning of "Television"). Rawlings (who also produced the
album) and Welch bring an easy and confident quality to their playing and their
harmony vocals. When the three voices come together, as they do on the nearly
a cappella "Demons & Fiends," they achieve an eerie, sideways take on Americana.
Hitchcock's knack for melody and often quirky, absurd lyrics give his two musical
partners plenty to work with. "Sometimes a Blond," a rolling mid-tempo song featuring
Rawlings on Dobro, is characteristic of Hitchcock's songwriting throughout the
album. Referencing ghosts with guns, hound-dogs, bon-bons, and ocelots, the
song isn't constructed according to the rules of narrative. Rather, it presents
a series of images that build up as the song progresses, leaving the listener
with the merest suggestion of a mood. Needless to say, a healthy appreciation
of the abstract and strange is a requirement for enjoying this album.
One of the strongest tracks on Spooked is a cover of Bob Dylan's "Tryin' to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door." Hitchcock's gravely vocals, Rawlings' guitar, and Welch's harmony vocals perfectly capture the weary, resigned air of Dylan's original.
It would be interesting to see what this combo could do with other Dylan compositions. Overall, it is clear that Hitchcock is having fun creating music with Welch and Rawlings, and that joy comes through in the listening.