Robyn Hitchcock and The Venus 3 – Goodnight Oslo (Yep Roc Records)

After more than thirty years in the business Robyn Hitchcock has become something of an alternative-rock institution, with a long and varied discography covering moods ranging from wild psych-punk to gentle acoustic-folk. His latest album, Goodnight Oslo, doesn’t aspire to either of those extremes. In fact it doesn’t aspire to much at all. As much as it pains me to say, he’s falling into the dreaded trappings of what I would call “old guy rock”. While the album isn’t unpleasant (and “Up To Our Nex” is a damn fine song), Hitchcock sounds less willing (or able) to push himself as an artist and performer. His vocal range and delivery is becoming more limited and he and his group The Venus 3 (featuring REM’s Peter Buck and REM side-men Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin) spend most of their time in a comfortable mid-tempo groove that never commands much attention or sticks with you long after the album ends. The lack of excitement makes Goodnight Oslo an album best recommended for Hitchcock die-hards, and not for curious listeners looking for their first taste of what Robyn Hitchcock is capable of. Anyone in that category would be better served by the recent reissues of Fegmania!, Element Of Light or I Dream Of Trains – all of them classics.

Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians – Luminous Groove (Yep Roc Records)

Luminous Groove is the second box-set from Yep Roc’s trek through Robyn Hitchcock’s back pages. This one covers his mid-’80s output, with 1985’s Fegmania!, the live album Gotta Let This Hen Out! (apparently exclamation points were big back then), and 1986’s Element of Light all included. During this period Hitchcock, along with his band The Egyptians, were at a creative peak with song after song – 93 of them, to be exact – of  perfect twisted psychedelic jangle-pop nuggets that fell somewhere between Syd Barrett’s solo work and REM’s early albums. Many of the songs on Luminous Groove are among the best of Hitchcock’s vast discography, with “If I Was A Priest”, “My Wife and My Dead Wife” and the psych-punk “Goodnight I Say” all personal favorites. Already have the Rhino versions of these albums? Well, that’s great, but the remastered sound is far better here and there’s different bonus tracks (frustratingly, some of the bonus tracks from the Rhino versions are missing), so you might want to upgrade. If that’s not enough for you, Luminous Groove also has a two-disc set of previously unreleased music called Bad Case of History, one of studio rarities, and one of live tracks. Both discs keep up with the astoundingly high quality of the studio albums, and are valuable additions to the Hitchcock discography. If you’re not familiar with Hitchcock, the box set is probably too much to start with, but luckily for you the three albums (but not the rarities discs) are available individually and are all essential listening.