“And there in the buffet car, I wait for eternity … or
Basingstroke … or Reading”
croons the master of pop surreality in the 1984 song “I Often Dream of Trains.”
Here and elsewhere, with the Soft Boys, the Egyptians, the Venus Three and even
Americana guitarist David Rawlings, Robyn Hitchcock moves with Magrittean
whimsy from the sublime to the concretely mundane. He has been dreaming, on
record, of trains, and eyes, insects, and ghosts and other absurdities for 30
years and more now, passing from fey oddity to something like an institution.
tracks sketch out this career in very broad strokes. For the sake of brevity,
it limits even classic albums to a few tracks (Underwater Moonlight gets three), skips over others altogether (Can of Bees is shut out) and slights the
vast middle section of Hitchcock’s career. You could make a parlor game out of
its selections. Of course, there’s going to be “I Want to Destroy You,” but why
not “I’m a Reptile,” and yes, naturally, “My Wife and My Dead Wife,” but why
not “Man with the Lightbulb Head”? Why
not a brief interval from one of Hitchcock’s bizarre, between-songs monologues,
often the highlight of his live performances?
Still, at this point, with box sets, documentaries and
b-side compilations documenting every corner of the Hitchcock opus, shortness
is a virtue. Chronology is a
daytrip through the warped, bizarre and utterly civilized interiors of
Hitchcock’s imagination. You can take it in the car with you. You can listen
while you cook dinner. It’ll be over before you know it, and then you can
listen to it again.
There are no real surprises here, nothing new for the
devoted fan to chew on. Still pretty much every track is a winner, from the
opening salvos of punkish “I Want to Destroy You” through the spare melancholy
of acoustic “Queen Elvis” through the shadowy, charcoal smudged mysteries of
“Goodnight Oslo.” Look at Chronology as the world’s oddest Whitman’s box sampler. Choose any one of these truffles
of eccentricity and bite down. You can hardly go wrong.
Want to Destroy You” “My Wife and My Dead Wife” “Queen Elvis” JENNIFER KELLY