Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3, Ole! Tarantula
A surrealist darling gets surprisingly direct, but still parties like it's 1986.
Three songs into Olé! Tarantula, a typically Hitchcockian melange of astronaut rides, egg-squirting arachnids, slithery sea life and hyper-sexualized trolley buses, a lyric shows up that is so baldly literal, it could have accidentally wandered in from a Celine Dion song. "Music is the antidote to the world of pain and sorrow," Hitchock sings, as electric guitars chime and saxophones chug a "Bang a Gong" beat. On his self-described "twenty-somethingth" album, Hitchcock displays a new affinity for directness; maybe, at 53, he's finally ready to jettison labels like "wacky" and "eccentric" and just be understood. "Underground Sun" dresses a eulogy to a friend in Beach Boys harmonies: "You lie so long there, listening to the silence of the graves," he despairs, before blurting out, "I miss you." And "N.Y. Doll," a fictionalized trip into the mind of departed punk bassist Arthur Kane, springboards into a condemnation of music business cruelty: "There's always someone young and fresh/Or cold and rotten." Indie-rock elder statesmen/Minus 5ers Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin provide confident expertise without sacrificing inspiration. This gang sounds wiser, but not older — they may not be college radio darlings anymore, but they still know how to party like it's 1986.