The Man and His Symbols

Robyn Hitchcock's latest is out of his mind.

In the early Nineties, something mysterious happened to the strange messages Hitchcock was passing on from inner space. A couple of discs that even Hitchcock seems less than enthusiastic about, 1991's Perspex Island and 1993's Respect, proved to be his third, fourth and final releases for A&M Records. Critics gave Perspex a lukewarm reception, and when Respect hit the shelves and failed to outperform the previous release, A&M Records released the Egyptians from their contract.

It is a testament to Hitchcock's resilience--and talent--that he bounced back with the critically acclaimed Moss Elixir, released on Warner Bros. Records in 1996. And there was more where that good fortune came from, not the least of which has been a fruitful and loving relationship with girlfriend Michele Noach, something Hitchcock frequently mentions in interviews and communiques. "Since we've been together, I've been in my forties," he relays, "and this has been the best decade of my life so far."

Another accolade for Hitchcock came upon him by surprise, bestowed by Jonathan Demme, who directed a performance film, Storefront Hitchcock, released last year. Typically clever Hitchcock, the feature captures him in a Manhattan shop window playing to passersby on the sidewalk. "As I get older and more decrepit the movie will get younger and more beautiful. They're releasing it on video, so soon every home will have one," he continues, "and I expect Chelsea Clinton will come bounding back to the White House with her copy and Bill and Hillary will sit either side of her on the sofa."

"No, I Don't Remember Guilford," which appears both in the film and on Jewels, is a pondering, mid-tempo selection that perhaps represents a darker Hitchcock of years gone by: "Did something happen?/The sky just blackened/ Now there's a butterfly on my face/And I'm a number in a drawer." Overall, even the song titles on Jewels belie the fact that the new record is an optimistic affair, if in a uniquely Hitchcockian sort of way. The slightly buttery "I Feel Beautiful" and the frolicking "Viva! Sea-Tac" ("Viva! Seattle Tacoma, viva viva Sea-Tac/ They've got the best computers and coffee and smack") are prime examples. Songs like the driving "Elizabeth Jade" ("Oh Elizabeth Jade/You shake me up like pre-war lemonade"), the patient, redemptive "Dark Princess," and the lofty "Mexican God" combine to make Jewels a very satisfying icing on an already impressive cake. Fans who have come to rely on Hitchcock as a release valve for their existential angst might be disappointed. That is not to say its positive mental attitude yields a love-fest, however.

"I don't think this is nauseatingly happy," says Hitchcock. "It's not like I'm clapping my hands saying I'm in love and the world has been saved."

Whether euphoric or dreary, Hitchcock doesn't intend to make his records a porthole to his soul. His art is merely an expressive means of keeping his brain healthy, and Jewels is an inevitable byproduct. "Obviously, the tenet of this interview has been me proclaiming loudly how mentally sound I am," he says with good-natured sarcasm. "But it is a point worth making because, superficially, people may get completely the opposite idea."

How might they stumble upon that absurd notion? From the lyrics of "The Cheese Alarm" ("Roquefort and gruyere and slippery Brie/ All of these cheeses they happen to me")? The very picture of mental health.

Robyn Hitchcock, with the Flaming Lips and Sebadoh. 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, August 3, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue, $19.50, 303-830-2525; acoustic in-store performance, 3 p.m. Wednesday, August 4, Twist & Shout, 300 East Alameda Avenue, 303-722-1943.

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