Robyn Hitchcock – The Man Upstairs


Robyn Hitchcock – The Man Upstairs

By Christopher Hollow

Robyn Hitchcock’s voice is a blender. And it doesn’t matter if he’s singing the disparate songs of Roxy Music, The Doors or the Psychedelic Furs – that fabulously English voice can mix, sift, grind and emulsify anything into sounding like Robyn Hitchcock.

The Man Upstairs is Hitchcock’s 20th solo album and sees him team up with producer Joe Boyd, famed for his work with the Incredible String Band, Sandy Denny and early Pink Floyd. It’s not the first time they’ve collaborated – Hitchcock was part of Boyd’s Nick Drake Way to Blue tour and they also did a show together around Boyd’s Swinging Sixties memoir, White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s.

The record’s template came from Boyd, who wanted to make The Man Upstairs play out like a mid-60s Judy Collins LP à la Wildflowers. Half-originals, half-covers, guitar, cello and that voice.

As with Judy’s albums, the covers are the easiest entry point but for those expecting tracks along the lines of Hitchcock’s usual Bob/Beatles/Byrds/Barrett fare, there are some pleasant surprises.

The former Soft Boy proves just as comfortable singing the dazzling verse of a precocious 21-year-old Jim Morrison [“The Crystal Ship”] as he is doing “The Ghost in You” by the Psychedelic Furs.

He takes on another distinctly English songwriter/interpreter, Bryan Ferry, and manages to do what Ferry always did with his best re-workings – turn a song inside out and give it a whole new identity. “To Turn You On”, which comes off the high-gloss Roxy Music production Avalon, is not as overtly chic [no fretless bass]but still has plenty of class.

Hitchcock also shines a light on a song called “Ferries” by Norwegian duo, I Was a King, and gets the writer, Anne Lise Frøkedal, to sing harmony throughout the rest of the album. The version of Grant Lee Phillips’ “Don’t Look Down” is spare and beautiful and is the album at its most affecting.

Meanwhile, we know Hitchcock’s own songs are cover-worthy.

Recently, Galaxie 500/Luna mainman Dean Wareham released a fabulous 7” vinyl version of “Love” [from Hitchcock’s 1981 solo debut, Black Snake Diamond Röle]. But who would cover the songs off The Man Upstairs?

“San Francisco Patrol” is slow and haunting and would be a great doo wop number as done by The Flamingos. “Somebody to Break Your Heart” ups the pace and could be flipped nicely by Jonathan Richman. The half-French “Comme Toujours” is strictly for Kevin Ayers while the highlight is “Trouble in Your Blood”, which sits comfortably with Hitchcock’s best.

The Man Upstairs appears to be Hitchcock talking to God. At 61-years-old, maybe it’s a good time to do that. It could definitely be called an autumnal record, but then what Hitchcock record hasn’t been?

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM ( in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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