Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Jewels for Sophia

By Kent H. Benjamin

AUGUST 9, 1999: 

Robyn Hitchcock Jewels for Sophia (Warner Brothers)

With his last studio album being a largely acoustic affair, and following the acoustic live soundtrack album Storefront Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock's latest release, is a welcome return to electricity. Diverse and satisfying, the biggest surprise on Jewels for Sophia is the presence on two tracks of Hitchcock's original lead guitarist from the Soft Boys, Kimberley Rew. The pair haven't played together in almost 20 years, and the timing of this re-teaming is interesting given that as Hitchcock gets older, he seems to focus more on his skewed ballads and relies less on post-Byrds jangly psychedelia; and there isn't a single trademark radio-ready power pop gem here. "Viva! Sea-Tac" perhaps comes closest, the song being an uptempo tribute to Seattle, which features Hitchcock's regular acoustic guitarist Tim Keegan, as well as longtime friend Peter Buck on electric guitar, and current R.E.M. sideman Scott McCaughey on bass (the latter two Seattle residents). The title track is one of his best songs in years, a tribute to his significant other ("jewels" being used in the family way), and manages to sound more like R.E.M. than anything on Up! "NASA Clapping," meanwhile, sounds for all the world like a great track from the Soft Boys' classic Underwater Moonlight album, with dueling guitars by Hitchcock and Rew. As usual, Hitchcock writes intentionally oblique, frequently humorous lyrics that can either be analyzed or chuckled at, and one has to love lines like "time will destroy you like a Mexican god" and "being just contaminates the void." And as a real delight, there's hidden bonus tracks, including "Gene Hackman," a delightfully silly song perhaps taken from a Waterloo Records in-store performance at South by Southwest '98.

3 stars

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