February 1993


"Undisguised folk truths drawn from decades of campfire wisdom, nurtured on a diet of The Band, the Beach Boys or Billy Bragg," is how Robyn Hitchcock sums up Respect, his seventh album with the Egyptians Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor. Respect, like their previous A&M releases, Globe of Frogs, Queen Elvis and Perspex Island, is a glorious concoction of harmonies, tunefulness, lovingly crafted arrangements and prosaic imagery. But it is also Hitchcock's most unambiguous collection of songs to date, a bold and heartfelt statement by a songwriter evolving to a new heights of revelation and artistry.

"I'm not trying to produce anything that makes people go `oh wow, that was clever,'" Hitchcock says. "A lot of the old songs have words as foliage, verbiage, a screen of words. There was a big gap between expression and communication. But I've got more confident about my songs now. I wanted to get something that has feeling in it, that's close, kind of right in your third eye."

Going back to the days of the Soft Boys, Hitchcock has been singing his songs in public for over sixteen years now. The passing of time has brought out his introspective side and he is coming to express his reflections about love, death and everyday life in a much more direct manner. The lovely "Railway Shoes" echoes this sentiment most clearly, while "Then You're Dust" is a haunting concession to the way we all end up.

For as long as he's been writing and performing contemporary music, Robyn has also found other means for creative expression. Like his late father, Raymond Hitchcock who died last year, Robyn is an accomplished painter (a touring exhibition of the States is planned for the future) as well as a poet and a short story writer.

The unvarnished, personal nature of Respect demanded a different approach from past Egyptians records. Shunning the excruciating technical processes of a recording studio, the band brought a 40 foot long mobile recording unit out to Robyn's home on the Isle of Wight in England. Producer John Leckie (The Fall, Stone Roses) was installed as a fouth pair of ears, and most of the electric instruments were left on the mainland.

"With Perspex Island we made a very formal record with a producer," Hitchcock says. "We rehearsed hard, did all those things we'd never done before, and made this very sophisticated, kind of Beatles record, really. But while we were promoting it, we went round playing a lot of acoustic stuff at radio stations, and we also did a lot of stuff on the bus, with Morris playing a Coke tin and a shaker, and Andy on acoustic bass, just like campfire style. So I thought, let's do this at home, just do it in the kitchen were I write all these songs, and get away from all this production. Everytime we make a record, we try to get rid of a few more cliches and trademarks."

However, he admits, "the dynamic became so complicated that it actually doesn't come out acoustic at all." Overdubbing, horns and a Metcalfe-arranged string section does indeed leave Respect sounding very fleshed out--while minimalism guides the starkly pretty "Arms of Love" (which has already been covered by R.E.M.), the impressionistic first single, "Driving Aloud (Radio Storm)," is full-blown, irresistable pop music. But the mandate of simplicity left its mark--freed from their traditional instrumental roles, the band subverted the professionalism that can stand between a song's essence and its realization on record.

"One of the things an awful lot of bands suffer from is that you become so good at being yourself that you can switch it off and on," Metcalfe says. "If Robyn writes a four minute poppy song, we're very good at coming up with a nice bass riff and a backbeat and some harmonies. But for this, we weren't able to hide behind the things we normally do. We had to think about it much harder, and think about what the songs were actually about."

And, on Respect more than ever, the meaning of the songs, and the sentience that lies behind them, is what drives Hitchcock's art. "In the past people tended to come and look at me rather than look with me," Hitchcock says. "It was a bit of a freak show for the intelligentsia. Sure, I'm intelligent and I'm a freak, but I think there's more to it than that. The important thing is the emotion in the songs."