AN ARTIST'S UNRELEASED MATERIAL is usually better left that way. Usually out-takes from previous albums, such material is prized by fans but often reveals the most tenuous and potentially embarassing moments--as happened to the mighty Led Zeppelin with the appearance of Coda. Having formulated this general law, let me announce that Invisible Hitchcock, a compilation of previously unreleased stuff from British popster Robyn Hitchcock, is the exception to the rule.
A scattered collection of out-takes such as this is the ideal format for Hitchcock, a man whose knowledge of musical genres allows him to change styles like hats. Invisible, for instance, begins with a fairly straight-forward pop tune, "All I Want To Do Is Fall In Love." From this base, however, Hitchcock takes off and explores country and western ("Give Me A Spanner, Ralph"), 60s psychedelia ("Grooving On An Inner Plane"), experimental noise ("Let There Be More Darkness") and improvised blues-grunge ("Blues In A").
As belied by the above catalogue, there is not a lot of stylistic unity on Invisible. The one constant on this disk is Hitchcock's bizarre sense of humor, which leads him to rhyme the word "spanner" with such unlikely choice as "banana" and "iguana." When the aim is scabrous, Hitchcock creates "Trash," a scathing put-down of the star-fucking mentality in rock and roll and an explicit tribute to Lou Reed's "Dirt." But at his most playful, he comes up with "Point It At Gran," a suggestion to a gun-toting assailant.
In contrast to the electric moodiness of Hitchcock's last studio album, Element of Light, the songs here are mostly acoustic and feature some nifty harmonica tooting. This choice of instrumentation gives Invisible a homey feel, even if the subject matter is outlandish and alienating. In fact, listening to this record is kind of like inviting the neighborhood psychopath to jam on your front porch.
The songs on Invisible Hitchcock form the sort of folk/blues jam Bruce Willis would love to have, if he possessed the sense of humor and talent to pull it off. Maybe there's a wine cooler commercial in Robyn Hitchcock's future. If so, you can be sure that it will be packed with the aliens, talking buildings and vegetable friends that make Invisible Hitchcock an eminently worthwhile compilation.