One of my problems with the path Hitchcock traveled in recent years has been the sublimation of his pop sensibilities. From the seventies with The Soft Boys through the Egyptians years to the nineties solo albums, he reveled in the Beatle-esque hook. But after his millennial stint with a reunited Soft Boys, he seemed to shut it down, releasing the soporific Luxor and the alt-country tinged Spooked (which has moments, but also real stinkers like "We're Gonna Live In The Trees"). Olé! Tarantula has reclaimed that past with a vengeance. But is it any good? The short answer is yes. The long answer is to bring back something I used to do - the real-time commentary, track by track.
"Adventure Rocket Ship" starts us off in harmony, minor-key build. Second guitarist is helping this track, allowing color to ply the spaces around the riff. Absolutely nonsensical lyrics, redeemed by the "You crash upon a star" harmonies. after two minutes, it approaches take-off, building, then - it ends.
The guitar figure (pardon, my terminology is ass, as is my understanding of 7ths and Phrygian dominants etc.) that opens the next track "Underground Sun" is prototypical Hitchcock, a swirling Byrdsian loop. I swear I know this song - it is such a kissing cousin of earlier works (very Element of Light, without the eighties drums). Hey - that's old Egyptian Morris Windsor singing harmonies on these! No wonder it's familiar. Silly me!
It's cranking along. Oh no, saxophones! After Hitchcock slammed them after the Groovy Decay/Decoy debacle (Of course, he used them again shortly thereafter. Live and learn). "Museum of Sex" isn't new. I know this song from live recordings. Of course, the arrangement is different - I've never heard this outside of solo shows. Hand claps. I like hand claps. This sounds a great deal like the Jon Brion stuff from Jewels For Sophia. Clapping, saxophones, chu-chu-chung guitar. So far, no standouts. Solid.
Wonderful piano! "Belltown Ramble", a strange little travelogue - R.E.M., O.M.D. and Uzbek warlord Tamerlane. "pink rotating elephant/EXP" Seattle? Hitchcock has a great affinity for the area - plus the Minus 5 guys are Seattle-ites. Maybe Belltown is there. Hmm. A simple jangle-folk rock song, head bo
The title track "Ol
"(A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs" starts softly, though with a definite build to it. "You were riding in your car in San Francisco/But you're never gonna ride that way again" Good to hear Hitchcock playing with names - Briggs, Clint, Squint, Mel. This is a late Egyptians track in feel - it would make sense on Respect. A cross between "Driving Aloud (Radio Storm)" and "Dark Green Energy". It could be from any of the A&M albums. I've heard this before - it has to have been kicking around for like 5 years! This arrangement is sweet. Lovely, like soft rain.
Jangle pop, Hitchcock style! "I could be gauche but it's only a sco
Not sure on "The Authority Box" verses - can't quite get the reference. the chorus/bridge "I call your name" is vintage Robyn -floating harmonies, rising to the limit of his voice. The verses have a squelchy feedback that almost reminds me of Julian Cope. That is a good thing. Whoa - "Fuck me baby/I'm a trolley bus!" I can't remember Hitchcock ever swearing in a song! He used to tell a story about a granny, who when asked by her grandson "What are grannies made of?" (you know, like girls are sugar & spice, etc) and granny answered, "Fuck-ass Rock and Roll!" in a deep, rumbling Exorcist voice. Nice climactic song.
Slow jangle, mid-tempo waltz-like beat. "N.Y. Doll" - about the late, lamented Arthur Kane. First person narrative, like a letter. "I was the pulse of it all/but there's always poison/ to drink alone or to/ share with friends /one in a million /people hit you like a window pane/ sincerely I remain/ Arthur Kane" I don't know if Hitchcock new the New York Doll's bassist, but the elegy is strong, touching. Much like "I Saw Nick Drake" from the outtakes collection A Star For Bram, Hitchcock here is reminiscing, touching something deep within himself.
His lifelong obsession with death and loss, and the understanding of life defined by these certainties, is very prevalent on this album. Whether through associated imagery (decay, scavengers like crabs and spiders, time and it's passing) or more lyrically direct in "N.Y. Doll" and "Briggs", his ruminations have weight. You could probably make the argument that his penchant for circular guitar motifs is also tied into that cycle of life. The fact is, for nearly thirty years, he has probed this fecund ground for his singular pop nuggets. Olé! Tarantula is another fine document of the richness of that soil.