Robyn Hitchcock has been writing songs for over 30 years and a collection of new material is always something to eagerly anticipate. Sometimes we’re disappointed; sometimes we think he could have done a bit better; sometimes we jump for joy. Goodnight Oslo is so good that he could fill the next 30 years with total duffers and it wouldn’t matter.
For a start, as he admits, “It almost sounds produced.” Translated into everyday language, that means that he has had time to fine-tune the overdubs, the mixing, editing – the little fills, the small sprinkles of fairy dust that add a touch of sheen without removing the texture. It surely helped, too, that he had Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Reiflin (all freelancing from REM) to come up with superb arrangements that recall – without ever imitating – a range of influences that cover The Byrds, the Stones, country music and blues.
Musically there’s an upbeat vibe to the CD and it’s possible to listen to it as quite a jolly excursion, but the songs are about rather more. “If there’s a theme in there,” Robyn says, “there seems to be a lot of stuff about trying to break out of long established negative patterns… in Goodnight Oslo the character is trying to say goodbye to this world that he inhabited. He’s emotionally attached to this sad, devastated landscape, yet he knows he’s going to have to leave it.”