Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock

Jewels For Sophia

Warner Bros.

Englishman Robyn Hitchcock has made a career out of being eccentric. Combining Syd Barrett-influenced lyrics with a touch of the Beatles and the Byrds, the former leader of the late ’70s band the Soft Boys has, since his solo debut in 1981, told us all about his obsession with bugs, amphibians, reptiles and other creatures. Sometimes the weirdness can make Hitchcock great fun. But at other times, those idiosyncrasies can get in the way and become tiresome.

Hitchcock’s obsessions continue on Jewels For Sophia . He also gives a shout out to cheese (“The Cheese Alarm”) and the Seattle-Tacoma area (“Viva Sea-Tac”). But Hitchcock is at his best on this one on mood-evoking songs like “You’ve Got a Sweet Mouth On You, Baby” and “No, I Don’t Remember Guildford” (reprised from last year’s soundtrack to the concert film Storefront Hitchcock ) and on straight ahead rockers like “Elizabeth Jade” and the weird “NASA Clapping.”

Ex-Grays/Jellyfish member Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainright) produced about half the songs on the record (mostly the quiet, acoustic ones). Hitchcock produced the rest with Charlie Francis, Pete Gerrald and Pat Collier. Not quite as serious as 1996’s Moss Elixir and not quite up to the high standards of his mid to late ’80s work with backing band the Egyptians ( Element of Light , Globe of Frogs ), Jewels still contains some of Hitchcock’s best vocals of recent years and some of his most rocking songs in a while. Be sure to stick around for not one but two hidden tracks at the conclusion of the album. The first is a piano number with a weird answering machine message intro. The second is a funny live acoustic ode to actor Gene Hackman.

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