Robyn Hitchcock 'n' the Egyptians

A & M Records

THERE IS NO WAY TO ADEQUATELY describe the warped sensibilities that pervade the average Robyn Hitchcock album. No one else seems to be able to write about death, flesh, and amphibians in Hitchcock's consistently baffling style. Somehow he mates the cheeriest, bounciest music to the most outrageous topics, as in "Furry Green Atom Bowl," a song from his I Often Dream of Trains LP which completely defies explanation. To make matters worse, the cover shot depicts Hitchcock meditating on a large-rooted vegetable, and the inner sleeve contains one of his odder short stories, this one dealing with the dead rising from the grave to make phone calls.

The music itself is as strange as always. Yes, there is the obligatory single ("Madonna of the Wasps"), and yes, guitarist Peter Buck guests on three tracks to draw in any wayward REM fans, but Hitchcock still churns out songs like "Veins of the Queen." This song shows Hitchcock imagining himself shrunk down to the size of a match head and injected into the veins of Queen Elizabeth to have a look around:

But nobody pretends

That they really know the Queen

So I'd love to say I'd been

Somewhere deep inside the veins

Of Her Majesty the Queen.

["Veins of the Queen" and "One Long Pair of Eyes" are both songs Hitchcock performed on his acoustic tour this summer, and fortunately, neither suffers from the fleshing-out they get from his band, the Egyptians. Hearing "One Long Pair of Eyes" performed with bass, drums, piano, and additional harmonies is certainly a change from the sparse, elegiac version I heard in concert, but the song doesn't suffer at all for it. It's still wrenchingly beautiful and one of Hitchcock's best love songs. Likewise, this is one of Hitchcock's best albums, eclipsing Element of Light and even Fegmania.